LONDON - Radical preacher Abu Qatada, once called Osama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe," was released on bail yesterday in a court decision that dealt an embarrassing blow to the British government's antiterrorism campaign.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith reacted by saying the government will protect national security and public safety, despite the unwanted release of Abu Qatada.
"I am extremely disappointed that the courts have granted Abu Qatada bail, albeit with very strict conditions," she said, pledging to try and overturn an April decision that prevented the British government from deporting the terror suspect back to Jordan, where he has been convicted of terror attacks dating back to 1998.
She said that decision, which set in motion Abu Qatada's release on bail, would be appealed in the House of Lords, Britain's highest court. The Court of Appeal ruled in April that Qatada and other suspects could not be deported to Jordan because they might face torture there and could not be assured a fair trial.
Thus far Abu Qatada, 47, has defied British efforts to deport him or keep him in prison.
British government officials maintain Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian, had ties to convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid and to Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged and convicted in the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Authorities accused him of raising large amounts of money for extremist networks in Britain and abroad, and of having provided spiritual guidance and comfort to extremists planning lethal terror attacks.