An extremist cleric who has avoided Britain’s efforts to deport him to Jordan for more than a decade was told Thursday he may have dealt a new blow to the country’s exasperated government.
British lawmakers were told a new appeal lodged Tuesday by the Palestinian-Jordanian preacher Abu Qatada, who has fought attempts to expel him from the U.K. since 2001, is likely to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights.
An advisory note sent to Britain’s Parliament by the Council of Europe – which is responsible for the court – said the cleric had submitted his latest effort to contest his deportation “just in time” to beat a deadline.
“I sometimes wish I could put him on a plane and take him to Jordan myself,” Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday, reflecting widespread frustration over the case. “But government has to act within the law.”
Cameron acknowledged he was growing alarmed at the delays that have prevented Britain from removing a man identified in court hearings as having been the late Osama bin Laden’s spiritual envoy in Europe.
The British leader’s anger comes after he believed his government had finally succeeded in drawing the protracted legal saga to a close.
In a ruling in January, European judges said the cleric should not be deported to Jordan because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him there. He faces a terrorism trial in Jordan over two bomb plots.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced Tuesday that talks with Jordan had produced new assurances that Abu Qatada would receive a fair trial – a pledge she said would satisfy the European court and clear the way for his swift removal.
But May returned to Parliament on Thursday to concede the case was again mired in legal wrangling.
British authorities re-arrested Abu Qatada on Tuesday to begin new deportation efforts, believing a legal deadline from him to take his case to Europe’s highest appeal court – the human rights court’s Grand Chamber – had expired on midnight Monday.
The cleric’s lawyers insisted the deadline ran until a day later, a view seemingly supported by the Council of Europe.
For some British lawmakers, the cleric’s case has come to symbolize Europe’s perceived meddling in Britain’s domestic affairs.
“The court of human rights is losing its credibility in this country,” said Alex Carlile, Britain’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
Cameron is now seeking agreement for reform of the court, hoping to force judges to speed up their decisions by focusing only on major cases. He notes that Abu Qatada first lodged an appeal with the European court in 2009 and his case continues to be unresolved.