A radical Muslim cleric who was held under house arrest on suspicion of fomenting terrorism is being investigated for repeated breaches of the terms of his control order.
A mobile phone and a computer modem – both banned – were found at Abu Qatada‘s house earlier this summer and he is also suspected of consorting with Islamists.
The suspected breaches are said to have happened over the summer, the period of the bomb attacks on London. Mr Qatada is currently back in prison while the Home Secretary tries to deport him to Jordan, but he is seeking bail from the Special Immigrant Appeals Commission (Siac).
Today’s revelations emerged at a bail hearing, when Ben Emmerson QC, defence barrister for Mr Qatada and six other detainees, revealed that the Home Office had forwarded him papers suggesting that Mr Qatada had met or tried to meet Islamist extremists while out of prison under his control order earlier this year.
The allegation was also made against other suspected international terrorists known only by the initials A, B, G, H, K and P, Mr Emmerson said.
A search of Mr Qatada’s home by Scotland Yard in June had uncovered a mobile phone said to belong to one of the preacher’s five children and a computer modem, the commission heard. Both items were banned under the terms of the order, which imposed a loose form of house arrest on suspects formerly held without charge or trial in Belmarsh prison.
Police were carrying out a forensic analysis of Mr Qatada’s computer at the time he was arrested under the Immigrant Act on August 11, the court heard.
He was also suspected of meeting Islamists. But Mr Emmerson argued that the control order regime allowed the suspects to meet people in limited situations, and that the investigation had not yet concluded whether there had been any breach.
Lisa Giovanetti, a Home Office lawyer, confirmed that at this stage the Home Office was not definitely accusing Mr Qatada of breaching his order.
Opposing bail, Ms Giovanetti said the London bombings provided extra justification for keeping him in prison. She said: “It is the Secretary of State’s case that this applicant and individuals like him have, by their teachings, been instrumental in creating a climate where young men like those who blew themselves up on July 7 consider this a legitimate action. We say the risk this applicant poses, should he abscond, is a very high one.”
She reminded Siac that it had previously described Mr Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, as a “truly dangerous individual” and his beliefs as a “perversion of Islam”.
The risk that he would abscond if bailed was more “concrete” now that the Government has secured a new diplomatic agreement with Jordan, she added. Mr Emmerson replied: “The prospect of a successful deportation in these cases is remote in the extreme.”
The commission then went into a lengthy closed session to conside top secret intelligence reports. Afterwards, the Siac chairman , Mr Justice Ousley, told defence lawyers – who are not allowed to see the most sensitive papers – that the documents confirmed that the police are investigating with a view to prosecution after the June search of the house.
The Home Secretary also had grounds to believe that Mr Qatada may have breached condition five, part of the control order terms which prevents terror suspects meeting other people, said Mr Justice Ousley.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Emmerson ridiculed the cases for holding the suspects. He said: “The Secretary of State’s analysis in making these deportation orders and detentions has been so riddled with flaws from top to bottom as to be in itself to very serious doubt.”
Apart from Abu Qatada, the allegations against the men were that they had been involved in credit card fraud to raise funds and equipment for groups in regions such as Chechnya, the QC said.
He suggested that the detentions of seven men he represented were designed to comfort the public in the wake of the July suicide bombings. He said: It is essentially … a desire on the part of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to ensure that the public is seen to have a response to the events of July 7, even if, with the exception of Abu Qatada, the Secretary of State is not seeking to draw a link between them and these individuals.
“There is no real effort by the Secretary of State to draw a connection between the other individuals and the events of July 7.”