Radical preacher Abu Qatada deported from Britain
BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed the deportation of Abu Qatada, saying removing the terror suspect from the UK "was a priority for this govt", and that there was a "clear plan" and a "right and stubborn refusal to bow to what many thought inevitable".
Mr Cameron tweeted his pleasure at the news just hours after Qatada left Britain aboard a private flight bound for Jordan from RAF Northolt, in west London.
The Home Office spent at least £1.7 million during a near decade-long battle to get him out of the country.
Shortly after Qatada's plane left the airfield at about 2.45am, Home Secretary Theresa May said: "I am glad that this government's determination to see him on a plane has been vindicated and that we have at last achieved what previous governments, Parliament and the British public have long called for.
"This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country.
"I am also 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. We are taking steps - including through the new Immigration Bill - to put this right."
Following numerous courtroom battles, it was a treaty signed between the UK and Jordan that finally secured Qatada's departure, giving the radical preacher the assurances he needed to leave his taxpayer-funded home behind.
The agreement, announced by the Home Secretary earlier this year, aimed to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the father of five at a retrial.
In a shock decision, Qatada pledged in May to leave Britain - with his family in tow - if and when the treaty was fully ratified, a process that to the relief of many, concluded earlier this week.
MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "Only 446 days after the Home Secretary said Abu Qatada would be on a plane shortly, he has finally reached the end of the runway.
"In the end, it was the king of Jordan who secured his departure by agreeing to this treaty.
"The Home Secretary's legal advisers will have questions to answer as to why they didn't conceive of this scheme earlier which would have prevented a cost to the taxpayer of £1.7 million."
Once dubbed Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, Qatada spent his final months in the UK in Belmarsh prison, after breaching a bail condition which restricted use of mobile phones and other communication devices.
The Government has been trying to deport him to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, for about eight years.
But Qatada - who has praised the September 11 terror attacks - repeatedly used human rights laws to avoid removal.
This argument, originally rejected by British courts, was upheld by judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, forcing Mrs May to seek new legal guarantees from Jordan that his rights would not be breached.
A 24-page mutual legal assistance treaty was drawn up between the UK and Jordan, containing a key passage that states where there are "serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture" it will not be used in a court.
Qatada's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC then unexpectedly told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) that his client was prepared to leave if the treaty was enshrined in law.
"There's never been a time in the last 12 years that Mr Othman (Abu Qatada) and his family could safely return to Jordan," he said. "For a long period of time, he has made it clear that he wishes to leave lawfully."
Despite the reassurances, the immigration judges were not satisfied enough to release the cleric from Belmarsh Prison after they heard ''jihadist files'' were found on digital devices in his home.
A USB stick found in the home, understood to belong to Qatada's oldest son, contained videos made by the "media wing of al Qaida".
It was recently disclosed that the lengthy deportation fight has cost the taxpayer more than £1.7 million since 2005, including £647,658 for Qatada's legal aid costs and more than £1 million in Home Office costs for pursuing the case through the courts.
When Qatada returns to Jordan, it has been reported that he will be taken to the maximum security Muwaqqar prison in a military zone near the capital Amman.
Mrs May said that she had been as "frustrated as the British public" at the length of time it has taken to deport Qatada to Jordan to face terrorism charges.
She told BBC Breakfast the government would now look to make changes through parliament and the upcoming Immigration Bill to ensure that similar deportations in the future can be carried out much more quickly, and to reduce the number of appeals processes.
The Home Secretary also said it was vital that the UK re-examines its relationship with the European Court of Human Rights, which proved a regular stumbling block in deporting Qatada.
She said: "We have got to look at that relationship, and as far as I am concerned I think nothing should be off the table in terms of looking at how we work with and how we deal with the European Court...
"We as the UK need to look at our relationship with the European Court and we need to ensure that in future we are able to deport people more quickly.
"I am pleased that Abu Qatada has been deported, I think the British public will be pleased about that. They have wanted that for some time, this Government has now achieved it."
Mrs May said she had no concerns about Qatada's treatment once he reaches Jordan because of assurances hammered out in the treaty with the Jordanian government.
Yvette Cooper MP, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, welcomed the news.
She said: "This is extremely welcome - it means Abu Qatada can stand fair trial in Jordan for the serious terrorism charges he faces there, so justice can be done.
"There have been continual delays in the legal process both in this country and in Europe that have been deeply frustrating for all Governments. We must ensure that delays like this do not last for so long in future and that the system is reformed to make it faster.
"The Government has done the right thing by continuing to pursue this until Abu Qatada could finally be deported. The Home Secretary has been right to get further guarantees from Jordan and we should welcome the series of agreements from the Jordanian Government too.
"Abu Qatada should have made this decision to face justice in Jordan before, as this has dragged on far too long, but it is extremely welcome news that this saga is now at an end."