LONDON — Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada was deported early Sunday from Britain to Jordan to face terror charges, ending over a decade-long battle to remove a man described as a key al-Qaida operative in Europe.
The move comes after Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing human rights concerns that had blocked previous attempts to deport the Palestinian-born Jordanian preacher.
British Home Secretary Theresa May announced Abu Qatada's departure in a statement early Sunday, expressing confidence that the public in the U.K. would welcome the conclusion of efforts dating back to 2001 to remove the radical cleric.
"This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country," May said in a statement. The Home Office then posted a picture on Twitter of Abu Qatada climbing the steps of a plane.
Abu Qatada was wanted in Jordan for retrial in several terror cases in which he was sentenced in absentia. Britain had tried since 2001 to deport Abu Qatada – whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman – but courts have blocked extradition over concerns that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.
After years of successfully fighting the numerous attempts to expel him from the U.K., the 53-year-old preacher recently indicated he would voluntarily return to Jordan if that country and Britain ratified a treaty on torture.
That treaty – which explicitly bans the use of evidence "where there are serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture or ill-treatment" – was ratified by Britain and Jordan last month.
It paved the way for the long-awaited removal of the man described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
Abu Qatada is accused by Britain of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. Audio recordings of some of the cleric's sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Authorities first tried to deport Abu Qatada in 2001, then detained him in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge.
Though he was released in 2005 when the unpopular law was overturned, the cleric was kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways. He most recently was being held at London's Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition in March which restricted the use of mobile phones and communication devices.
The British home secretary acknowledged the delays in the legal process in her statement announcing that "at last" Abu Qatada had been deported, saying it is "clear that we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport."