Radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada loses deportation appeal, faces expulsion from Britain

Abu Qatada is driven away after being refused bail at a hearing at London's Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which handles deportation and security cases, in London April 17, 2012. AP Photo

Updated at 2:12 p.m. ET

(AP) LONDON - Radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada on Wednesday lost his bid to make a final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against a British deportation order, effectively clearing the way for the U.K. to resume efforts to expel him to Jordan.

A European Court of Human Rights review panel refused to hear Abu Qatada's challenge, marking a milestone in the legal wrangling over the alleged senior al Qaeda figure and effectively exhausting his efforts to have European judges intervene in the case.

That means Abu Qatada could be sent to Jordan within months — though officials declined to offer any timetable — mindful that Britain's efforts to remove the radical preacher have dragged for more than a decade.

"It is clearly our intention still to deport this man," said a spokesman for Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron. He spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.

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The Palestinian-Jordanian preacher has been in detention since his arrest last month. His lawyers applied Wednesday for bail, though no date for that hearing has been set yet.

The ruling Wednesday by judges in Strasbourg clears the way for a fresh U.K. deportation hearing for Abu Qatada, who has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al Qaeda figure in Europe, effectively handing the case back to British authorities.

Abu Qatada has fought attempts to expel him from the U.K. since 2001, alleging he would face torture in Jordan.

Home Secretary Theresa May said she remains confident that the new assurances from the Jordanian government that Abu Qatada would receive a fair trial mean that the U.K. will be able to put the cleric "on a plane and get him out of Britain for good."

Wednesday's decision was by the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. The panel of five judges rejected Abu Qatada's bid to have his appeal heard, declaring that a January ruling by another court chamber is now final.

Abu Qatada's legal team was challenging the court's decision that the preacher could be sent back to Jordan with diplomatic assurances that he would not be mistreated and that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him. The cleric faces a terrorism trial in Jordan over two bomb plots.

The Council of Europe, a 47-nation body that includes the ECHR, will continue to monitor how the case proceeds, according to the ruling Wednesday.

The review panel said that the Jan. 17 ruling by the ECHR's chamber was final. In that January ruling, the court said that the deportation of Abu Qatada could violate his right to a fair trial because of the "real risk" that evidence obtained through torture could be used at a re-trial in Jordan.

Since then, the British government has said it has received fresh assurances from Jordan that that would not happen.

British authorities re-arrested Abu Qatada — whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman — last month to begin new deportation efforts, believing a legal deadline for him to take his case to the human rights court's Grand Chamber had expired.

But in an embarrassment to the British government, Wednesday's ruling said the U.K. had been mistaken and had detained the cleric 24 hours too early.

Britain's Home Office said the country's Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a court that handles deportation and national security cases, would now hear the attempt to expel the cleric from the country.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International U.K., expressed disappointment over the ruling and said that the human rights judges should have ruled on the strength of assurances from Jordan.

"Jordan has a known record of torturing detainees and conducting unfair trials," Allen said. "The simple truth is that Abu Qatada will be at personal risk of torture and of receiving an unfair trial in Jordan's State Security Court."

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