Jordan on Sunday detained hardline Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, hours after his arrival from Britain, where he lost a decade-long legal battle to avoid extradition.
The Military State Security Court ordered Abu Qatada detained for 15 days pending further investigation into his involvement in a foiled terrorist plot that resulted in the 53-year-old being handed a life sentence in absentia in 1999, the Jordanian state prosecutor said.
Abu Qatada was transferred to the desert prison of Muwaqqar, south of the capital, Amman, security sources said.
He is set to post bail on Monday and file an appeal, his attorney Tayseer Thiab said outside the court.
The Bethlehem-born hardliner landed in Amman early on Sunday, accompanied by British security officials and a Jordanian legal advocate. He had spent several years in and out of prison in Britain for suspected links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network starting in 2002.
An agreement signed by Britain and Jordan last month paved the way for the cleric’s extradition after the European Court of Human Rights last year overturned a decision by British authorities to deport him over concerns that he might face ill treatment while in Jordanian custody.
Jordanian officials stressed Sunday that Abu Qatada would receive “full and fair due process” in Jordan, dismissing claims by activists that the cleric might face torture during his detention.
“Abu Qatada’s full legal and human rights will be respected as any Jordanian citizen,” government spokesman Mohammed Momani said.
Meanwhile, dozens of people gathered in front of the Jordanian cabinet offices to protest the detention of Abu Qatada, who was once labeled Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe.
The Military State Security Court sentenced Abu Qatada to life in prison with hard labour for involvement in a terrorist plot targeting sites frequented by Westerners in Amman and for providing funding to extremist groups.
David Cameron welcomes deportation
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the deportation of radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada after legal marathon, saying removing the terror suspect from Britain had been a priority for his government.
Cameron tweeted his pleasure just hours after Qatada, 53, left Britain aboard a private flight bound for Jordan from RAF Northolt in west London.
“Dangerous” Qatada was deported after a decade-long legal battle which, according to a report, cost Britain at least 1.7 million pounds.
Theresa May acknowledges delay
In London, British Home Secretary Theresa May had announced Abu Qatada’s departure in a statement, expressing confidence that the U.K. public 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,” Ms. May said. The Home Office then posted a picture on Twitter of Abu Qatada climbing the steps of a plane.
Britain had tried since 2001 to deport Abu Qatada, but courts had 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., Abu Qatada recently indicated he would voluntarily return to Jordan if it 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-Qaeda figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
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.”
Abu Qatada's earlier trials
In 1999, a Jordanian military court sentenced Abu Qatada to death in absentia for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks, including a plot on the country’s American school in Amman. But the sentence was immediately commuted to life in jail with hard labour.
In 2000, the same court sentenced him to 15 years for plotting to carry out terror attacks on Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during the country’s millennium celebrations.
In both trials, Abu Qatada was in London, where he entered on a forged passport in 1993 and was granted asylum a year later.
Britain accused Abu Qatada 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.
British 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.