AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada arrived in Jordan on Sunday to face retrial on terrorism charges after his deportation from Britain, a Jordanian military prosecutor said.
The arrival is a victory for Jordan, whose extradition request was blocked in British and European courts for over a decade. Jordanian and Western intelligence accuse Abu Qatada of being a key al-Qaida operative in Europe. He had been previously sentenced in absentia to life in jail, but that has been lifted now that he faces a new trial.
Information Minister Mohammed Momani said Jordan "is keen on credibility and transparency" in handling Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman. The deportation of the Palestinian-born Jordanian cleric, he said, "sends a message to all fugitives that they will face justice in Jordan."
The move comes after Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing human rights concerns that had blocked previous attempts to deport him.
In London, British Home Secretary Theresa May had announced Abu Qatada's departure in a statement, expressing confidence that the U.K. public would welcome the conclusion of efforts dating back to 2001 to remove the radical cleric.
"This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country," May said. The Home Office then posted a picture on Twitter of Abu Qatada climbing the steps of a plane.
Britain had tried since 2001 to deport Abu Qatada but courts had blocked extradition over concerns that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.
After years of successfully fighting the numerous attempts to expel him from the U.K., the 53-year-old preacher recently indicated he would voluntarily return to Jordan if that country and Britain ratified a treaty on torture.
That treaty — which explicitly bans the use of evidence "where there are serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture or ill-treatment" — was ratified by Britain and Jordan last month.
It paved the way for the long-awaited removal of the man described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
In 1999, a Jordanian military court sentenced Abu Qatada to death in absentia for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks, including a plot on the country's American school in Amman. But the sentence was immediately commuted to life in jail with hard labor.
In 2000, the same court sentenced him to 15 years for plotting to carry out terror attacks on Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during the country's millennium celebrations.
In both trials, Abu Qatada was in London, where he entered on a forged passport in 1993 and was granted asylum a year later.
Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.