By Michael Radu
Michael Radu, Ph.D., is Co-Chair of FPRI’s Center on Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Homeland Security. He recently completed a book manuscript on Islamism in Europe.
“Britain let violent speeches go on too long. Laxity in this area isn’t good for anybody.” Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Grand Mosque of Paris
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to grant habeas corpus to alien terrorist suspects outside American territory has just been surpassed by an even more misguided decision in a British court, which released from custody the most dangerous terrorist recruiter and ideologue in Europe. His name is Omar Mohammed Othman, better known as Abu Qatada, described by Spanish counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon as bin Laden’s “spiritual ambassador in Europe.” As Tory MP Patrick Mercer observed, “Yet again, terrorists are laughing at us and remaining in this country at the taxpayer’s expense…. Abu Qatada, Bin Laden’s twisted mouthpiece, stays with us inside this country. What a shambles.”
Born in Bethlehem in 1960, Abu Qatada, a Jordanian citizen, is wanted on terrorism charges in Jordan, where he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment, and in Algeria, the U.S., Belgium, Spain, France, Germany and Italy. For at least a decade just about every major terrorism case in Western Europe and many in North Africa, the Middle East and as far away as Australia and Indonesia have had some link to Abu Qatada’s activities.
Qatada has lived on welfare (with his wife and five children) since his 1993 arrival on a fake UAE passport in the UK. This is a country that just denied entry to American media star Martha Stewart, who served five months in prison for lying to investigators in an investment scandal. While no one has ever suggested that Ms. Stewart poses a threat to the general population, Qatada remains in the UK notwithstanding that when he was first arrested in February 2001 police found £170,000 in cash in his home, marked “For the mujahideen in Chechnya.” And that was just a minor part of his operations.
What makes Abu Qatada such a dangerous person and the court’s decision to release him so outrageous is his role as a recruiter and legitimizer of Islamist terror throughout the world. While every jihadist group and individual needs the approval and encouragement of an established Islamic “scholar,” and most have their own in-house imams, Abu Qatada’s reach was truly global. By 1995 he was giving religious sanction to, and publishing in London the al-Ansar newsletter of, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which is responsible for some 130,000 murders of mostly civilians. Indeed, so murderous was the GIA that even bin Laden thought it gave jihad a bad name and by 1998 withdrew his support for it, transferring it to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC)—as did Abu Qatada himself, once again demonstrating his links to Al Qaeda, which go as far back as 1989, when he first met bin Laden in Pakistan. Indeed, in March 1995 Abu Qatada had issued a “fatwa” justifying the GIA killing of “apostates” (non-Islamists), their wives and children, in order to stop the “oppression” of Muslims.
Garzon indicted Abu Qatada in 2001, accusing him of cooperating with the convicted leader of a Madrid jihadist cell in raising funds for Al Qaeda terrorists in Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan. After 9/11, the German authorities investigating the Hamburg cell of Al Qaeda found his tapes in Mohamed Atta’s home. Abu Qatada’s admirers include Zakarias Moussaoui, the now-jailed 9/11 conspirator; Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber”; and the notorious French jihadis Rashid Ramda and Djamel Beghal. Mustafa Setmariam, contemporary jihad’s most prominent theoretician, is his friend. Among the jihadist groups Abu Qatada provided advice to were the Islamic Jihad in Egypt, Zarqawi’s al-Tawhid movement in Iraq, and similar ones in Indonesia, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.
Abu Qatada’s odyssey demonstrates the general problem most democracies face in combating Islamist terrorism. To begin with, he was expelled from Kuwait after supporting that country’s occupation by Saddam Hussein. He moved to Jordan, where he associated with radicals seeking to overthrow the government, and arrived in England with false documents. Any of these would be sufficient reason, one would think, to deny his request for asylum for “religious persecution.” Instead, he was placed on welfare and used this safety net to preach global jihad from his perch at Finsbury mosque and the Four Feathers Social Club in Baker Street, central London.
Qatada was arrested in 2001 on suspicion of involvement in a plot to bomb the Strasbourg Christmas market under powers contained in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001. After going into hiding, he was arrested in October 2002 in an armed raid on a south London council house and detained in Belmarsh high-security jail, only to be freed early in 2005 (although subjected to a control order limiting his movements and contacts) after the law lords ruled that his detention was unlawful. In August 2005 he was arrested again after the 7/07 bombings so that he could be deported to Jordan, but in April 2008 the Court of Appeal ruled that his deportation would breach human rights laws, as evidence used against him in Jordan may have been obtained through torture. On May 2008 he was granted bail by an immigration tribunal, with some of the bail money having been put up a former British hostage in Iraq whose release Abu Qatada had advocated. In June he was released from jail and placed under house arrest.
As Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, the Director of Al Arabiya TV, observed in 2007, Abu Qatada preferred to remain in prison and not to return to his homeland, Jordan, just like Osama Nasser, the imam from Milan, who protested being removed to Egypt and imprisoned there. (Nasser also sought to sue for 20 million Euros in damages.) Abu Qatada, Nasser, and Omar Bakri, who fled London for Lebanon in 2005, enjoyed all the benefits of the UK government they despised. “They want the financial aid, the security, the law, the justice and the freedom of expression afforded by this government. Is this not the epitome of hypocrisy?”
Indeed, Abu Qatada receives $2,000 a month in welfare payments, although in Islamic Movements and Contemporary Alliances he rejected any affiliation whatsoever between Muslim and non-Muslim countries and peoples—except, apparently, when infidel welfare subsidies to jihadis are involved.
The British court’s decision to let Abu Qatada go, which will be seen as a precedent by more known prominent jihadis, is only the latest demonstration of the immoral absurdity of “human rights” obsessions, as enshrined in the European Human Rights Charter and applied by various judges. To begin with, as Amnesty International gloated when it commented on a previous European Court of Human Rights decision (followed by the British courts ever since), “The Court’s jurisprudence makes it clear that there is no balance to be struck between the right of the individual not to be exposed to such risks [of torture] and the national security interests of the sending state (see the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of Chahal v. United Kingdom).”
The EU courts, British judges and Amnesty are essentially telling citizens that their safety—indeed their right to live—is less important than the putative “rights” of known jihadis, and that the state’s main obligation, to protect its citizens, is less important than the “right” of terrorists to be provided a “fair trial” according to the standards of Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Among those “rights” is that of not risking even the remotest risk of “torture,” again as defined by AI and HRW, including such ill-defined things as “inhuman,” “humiliating,” “degrading “or other discomforting treatment.
Aware of the fact that its courts are consistently inclined to protect jihadis, the British government tried to get rid of Abu Qatada by sending him back to Jordan, where he is under a life sentence, but that effort fizzled when judges rejected the memorandum of understanding the UK had signed with Amman, whereby Jordan promised not to mistreat him in any way. That, and similar arrangements with Algeria and Egypt, were not good enough for the judges, who took a page from the human rights NGOs.
The NGOs’ circular arguments against the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan exemplifies their refusal to understand that public safety is more important than the alleged possibility of mistreatment of the terrorists in their country of origin. HRW claims that “The essential argument against diplomatic assurances contained in bilateral agreements such as ‘memoranda of understanding’ is that the perceived need for such guarantees in itself is an acknowledgement that a risk of torture and other ill-treatment exists in the receiving country,” hiding the fact that the British government sought such assurances from Amman specifically to assure groups like AI and HRW. Moreover, these groups offer no solution to the basic dilemma: is the British government expected to allow an Abu Qatada to stay in London and continue his indoctrination and recruiting activities on behalf of Islamist terrorism, including attacks within the UK? If so, as the implication of its position suggests, HRW (and Amnesty) should state clearly that for them the simple possibility that a prominent figure of global terrorism could be mistreated in Jordan is more important than the safety of the rest of the world.
The problem starts with the UN Torture Convention of 1984, which defined torture as
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental [emphasis added], is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
From that fuzzy definition it was a short step for human rights fundamentalists to interpret any form of interrogation as, at least, mental pressure, and from there, to accuse most countries, including the United States, of practicing “torture.” Since the NGOs and their political admirers made the right of those charged of a crime to not face such “torture” more important than national or other people’s security, all it takes is for AI, HRW or judges agreeing with their “standards” to claim that country X did, could, or may practice “torture” for any potential victim to obtain protection, and voila, Abu Qatada is practically free to recruit and legitimize jihad at taxpayers’ expense.
To be sure, the British courts’ disregard of national security is just another expression of the same British cultural and political factors that brought the label “Londonistan” on England – factors that are also present among some members of the U.S. Congress and the media. However, the Abu Qatada precedent also threatens the other 26 EU member states – all of whom would, theoretically at least, be obliged to accept his presence and activities. Furthermore, the lawyers for Abu Hamza, another major jihad recruiter from London and beneficiary of Britain’s lax immigration laws, are now appealing his extradition to the United States because, you may have guessed, the “human rights” NGOs and their enablers in the media have decided that, as Guantanamo has “proved,” Washington may torture him.
As Alasdair Palmer notes in the Telegraph, “It is not only politicians and ‘opinion formers’ who are unable to resist extremism: judges are frequently liable to the same syndrome. That has been evident in their penchant for striking down anti-terrorist legislation while insisting on the importance of never compromising fundamental legal principles. The ‘absolutist’ commitment is what led to the judges’ decision to free Abu Qatada, even as one judge described him as ‘a truly dangerous individual.’”
Philip Johnston of the Telegraph recounts, “[Khalid al-] Fawwaz and [Adel] Abdelbarry have been imprisoned since 1999, probably the longest incarceration in British legal history without charge or trial, fighting extradition to America. They were held under an extradition warrant in London where they worked for bin Laden’s media organ, the Advice and Reform Committee. Their story, and those of Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada—provide an extraordinary insight into both how London became a hotbed for imported Islamist militancy and how the legal system and human rights laws subsequently made it almost impossible to deal with it. Furthermore, the cost to the taxpayer of the legal action in these four cases runs into millions of pounds.”
“Londonistan” is only the most outrageous example of how irresponsible respect for the “rights” of known terrorists, promoted by “human rights” radicals and enforced by unelected judges, threatens national security and the individual safety of citizens. The phenomenon is much more widespread, and until voters in democracies, acting with common sense and a healthy instinct of self-preservation, demand change, defense against Islamist terrorism remains hampered and the threat only grows.
- ^ James Slack, “Bin Laden’s ‘right-hand man’ set for life on British benefits after judges rule deportation would breach his human rights,” Daily Mail, April 10, 2008.
- ^ Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, “Why Do Islamist Extremists Who Incite Against the West Insist on Living There?” MEMRI Special Dispatch, March 8, 2007.
- ^ see http://www.amnesty.org.
- ^ Human Rights Watch, UK: “Abu Qatada Ruling Threatens Absolute Ban on Torture. Assurances by Jordan Won’t Protect Terrorism Suspect from Torture, London, March 1, 2007; see also Amnesty International, “UK must stop deportations to torture states,” March 1, 2007, at http://www.amnesty.org
- ^ “How the law and UN define torture,” The Telegraph, 9/12/2005.
- ^ Alasdair Palmer, “Even our judges seem drawn to extremism,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2008.
- ^ Philip Johnston, Abu Hamza extradition is no cause for rejoice, The Telegraph, June 23, 2008.