Jordanian terror suspect Abu Qatada lost his bid to have his appeal over deportation heard by Europe’s top human rights judges on Wednesday.
A panel of judges dismissed the last-minute defense request lodged last month for a full Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights hearing in the wake of a court ruling in January.
Once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe,” Abu Qatada’s bid to have his appeal heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was rejected.
The ruling clears the way for deportation proceedings against the radical cleric, 51.
The panel of five judges rejected the bill, but ruled his application was made in time, a spokesman for the Council of Europe, which runs the court, said, according to the Press Association news agency.
The decision by the panel of judges means Home Secretary Theresa May was wrong when she claimed the three-month appeal deadline from the court’s original decision on January 17 expired on the night of April 16.
Qatada’s lawyers lodged his appeal late on the night of April 17, which the judges ruled was in time.
A spokesman for the court said: “The panel found that the request had been submitted within the three-month time limit for such requests. However, it considered that the request should be refused,” the PA reported.
Any application by Qatada’s lawyers to revoke his deportation order is now likely to be refused by May and he could be on a plane to Jordan within weeks.
“I am pleased by the European court’s decision. The Qatada case will now go through the British courts. I am confident the assurances we have from Jordan mean we can put Qatada on a plane and get him out of Britain,” May said on Wednesday.
London has repeatedly said that Abu Qatada would receive a fair trial if he was returned to face charges of involvement in terror attacks in his home country.
Abu Qatada was found guilty in absentia in 1998, but Jordan has promised to quash the conviction and give him a new hearing before civilian judges, with independent defense lawyers and the right to question witnesses.
Last month, al-Qaeda’s North African branch offered to free a British hostage in return for the release of radical preacher Abu Qatada but warned London against handing him over to his native Jordan.
“The initiative to the British government is to release its citizen Stephen Malcolm, who also has South African nationality, if it deports Abu Qatada to one of the ‘Arab Spring’ countries,” said a statement on an Islamist website said, which could not be verified, from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“If Britain ignores this offer it will bear the consequences of handing Abu Qatada to the Jordanian government,” it added.
Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen have seen changes of leadership after uprisings last year known as the Arab Spring. The revolts have empowered Islamists who were often persecuted by previous governments.
Malcolm is thought to be one of nine Europeans, including six French nationals, seized by the al-Qaeda branch in Mali and Niger since September 2010. It said in January it would kill them if France and its allies attack its bases in northern Mali.
The group has said the others are from Sweden and Holland.
Africa’s Sahel region has become a haven for al-Qaeda-linked operatives taking advantage of the vast and lawless area, and is believed to have raked in millions of dollars in ransoms. Mauritania’s army has launched a series of attacks on AQIM bases inside Mali in recent months.
But a top Jordanian Salafist leader on Wednesday slammed the ruling saying Abu Qatada’s life will be “in danger.”
“We condemn this decision,” Abed Shehadeh, known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, told AFP after Abu Qatada lost his bid for top European Court of Human Rights judges to hear his appeal against Britain’s efforts to extradite him.
“Abu Qatada’s life would be definitely in danger if Britain extradites him to Jordan.
“Abu Qatada had nothing to do with these crimes,” Shehadeh said. “The United States, Israel and their agents in the region are simply targeting the man.”
Jordan has pledged a “fair” retrial of Abu Qatada and gave Britain reassurances to allay the European court’s concerns.
But Shehadeh said: “These assurances do not mean anything. The state security court’s integrity and integrity are questionable.”