LONDON - Abu Qatada, a radical Muslim cleric who British officials say is an Al Qaeda figurehead and a threat to national security, was freed from an English prison into virtual house arrest, judicial officials said yesterday.
The 51-year-old extremist preacher, who is fighting extradition to Jordan, had been held at the Long Lartin jail in central England. The Palestinian-Jordanian cleric has spent more than six years in prison, but a tribunal ruled last week he should be released on bail.
The terms of his bail, published by the judiciary, require Abu Qatada to wear an electronic tag and to stay inside his home for 22 hours each day. He is not allowed a mobile phone, a computer, or Internet access, and he is barred from communicating with a long list of individuals, including Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The conditions also stipulate he must not lead prayers, give lectures, publish articles, preach, or provide religious instruction or advice, “other than to his wife and children at his residence.’’
Abu Qatada has been described in Spanish and British courts as a leading Al Qaeda figure in Europe. He is reported to have had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
British officials say he poses a serious threat to the country’s security, but attempts to deport him to Jordan to face terrorism charges were blocked by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled last month that there is a risk evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in court.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said yesterday that Britain still hoped to overcome the European’s courts objections. Abu Qatada has never been charged with a crime in Britain, although authorities have accused him of advising militants and raising money for terrorist attacks.