London Guardian 07/08/02: Vikram Dodd
The alleged spiritual leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network is living with his wife and children in northern England, in a safe house paid for by the intelligence services, it was claimed yesterday.
Abu Qatada, a Muslim cleric believed by several European countries to be a pivotal figure in international terrorism, disappeared from his west London home in December, before a round up of alleged terrorist suspects. It was rumoured that he had fled abroad.
Time magazine’s sensational but bizarre claim is attributed to senior members of European intelligence services.
The report says that Mr Qatada, claimed by some to be Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and his wife and family are being fed and clothed by British intelligence.
Time quoted a senior European intelligence source as saying: "The deal is that Abu Qatada is deprived of contact with extremists in London and Europe, but can’t be arrested or expelled because no one officially knows where he is."
The magazine says that the French authorities corroborated these claims. Their source added: "The British win because the last thing they want is a hot potato they can’t extradite for fear of al-Qaida reprisals, but whose presence contradicts London’s support of the war on terror."
A British government official described the report as "crap" and added: "We wouldn’t give an awful lot of credence to it." A Home Office spokeswoman said she could not comment on intelligence matters.
Videos of Mr Qatada’s speeches were found in the Hamburg flat of Mohamed Atta, who is believed to have been the leader of the September 11 hijackers.
Mr Qatada, 40, settled in London with his wife and four children eight years ago when he was given asylum after claiming that he had been persecuted in Jordan for his religious beliefs.
In his absence he was convicted in Jordan of funding a bombing campaign, and sentenced to 15 years in jail.