An extremist cleric, once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, is facing indefinite imprisonment in Britain. Abu Qatada, who has been out on bail amidst the UK government’s continuing efforts to deport him to his native Jordan, will appear in court today on accusations of planning to flee to the UK. Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, ordered that Qatada be arrested after the UK Border Agency uncovered evidence that the father of five was planning to surreptitiously slip out of the country to Lebanon without a passport.

Qatada, 47, who arrived in Britain 15 years ago on a forged UAE passport, has already been convicted in absentia in Jordan for his role in plotting a bombing campaign against tourists in 1998. A British judge blocked his extradition to Jordan this year and ordered his release from prison on strict bail conditions, including that he wear an electronic tag, not attend a mosque, and remain in his home in London for 22 hours a day.

The judge ruled out deportation because he could not be sure that Qatada would not be tortured if sent back to Jordan. The British government is appealing the judge’s rejection of the extradition on the grounds that it has obtained guarantees from the Jordanians that Qatada will not be tortured.

Qatada, held in Belmarsh Prison – a high security centre in south London – will appear before a judge presiding over a special immigration appeals commission hearing, accused of breaching his bail conditions. The government wants him to be kept in prison for as long as it takes for his extradition case to be resolved, labeling him a threat to national security.

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