The controversial Muslim religious leader, hate preacher and convicted terrorist is to be freed on bail after he won an appeal in Britain against his deportation to Jordan, where he faces convictions over terrorist offences related to two alleged bomb plots.
Judge John Mitting granted Abu Qatada bail on Monday and said he would be freed from prison on Tuesday, despite a claim from a government lawyer that he poses a major security threat.
Britain has been attempting since 2001 to expel the Palestinian-born Jordanian, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, after he was convicted in his absence in Jordan over terror plots in 1999 and 2000.
Abu Qatada, dubbed Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, was to face a retrial if he was deported to Jordan.
Britain had insisted that it had won assurances from Jordan, including from Jordan's King Abdullah II, who met David Cameron, UK prime minister, last week, over how Abu Qatada's case would be handled.
But judges said there was a real risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him.
Abu Qatada's release is subject to bail conditions including being allowed out of his house only between 08:00 and 16:00, having to wear an electronic tag, and being restricted in who he meets.
Two dangerous Libyan terror suspects are to be freed next Thursday after high court judges dealt a new blow to the government's anti-terror strategy by ruling they could not be sent back to Colonel Gadafy's(deceased) regime because of the risk they would face torture and a show trial.
Yesterday's decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) also affects a further eight of the 23 foreign terror suspects who have been detained in Long Lartin maximum security prison for more than 18 months pending their deportation in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings.
The ruling by Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Mitting blows a hole in Tony Blair's strategy of securing memorandums of understanding and "no torture deals" with Middle East and north African regimes to overcome the human rights objections to sending foreign terror suspects back to their homelands.
Although the courts have upheld pacts with Jordan and Algeria, this ruling is the first test of a specific memorandum of understanding signed by two governments.
The judges ruled that the two Libyan Muslims, who can be identified only as DD and AS, should be freed on bail next week, probably on conditions similar to a control order with a 12-hour curfew and a ban on using mobile phones and laptops. Mr Justice Mitting said that it would be "on the cusp of legality" to keep them in detention after they won their appeal.
The judges said that although the agreement had been signed in good faith by Libya there "remained the real risk" that human rights breaches could happen: "That is because there is too much scope for changes to happen, for things to go wrong, and too little scope for human rights breaches to be deterred."
They said their conclusion was strongly supported by secret intelligence evidence and noted that the mercurial personality of Col Gadafy would be a key factor in whether the assurances would be honoured. In the event of renewed attacks by Islamist terror groups in Tripoli, the temptation to interrogate using torture methods "could be readily too great to be resisted". The judges also concluded that any hearing the two might face would be a complete denial of a fair trial.
The national security case against the two Libyans detailed in the "open" judgement published yesterday makes chilling reading. DD, 32, is a member of the banned Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and a "global jihadist with links to the Taliban and al-Qaida". A map found in the boot of his car had a flightpath to Birmingham airport marked on it.
The home secretary, John Reid, told Siac that one of DD's relatives blew himself up during a raid by the Spanish police after the 2003 Madrid train bombings. He was the suspected ringleader of the Madrid attack. Another relative is serving 18 years in Morocco for his part in the Casablanca bombings which killed 45 people in May 2003.
"These links are not mere misfortune or coincidence. We believe from experience that such family relationships with like-minded people add to contacts, cover and security."
The second Libyan, AS, is also ruled to be a clear danger to national security and "a senior member with a terrorist group clearly engaged in support work for jihadist activities". He was involved in a terror cell based in Milan who referred to their plot as a "football game".
The Home Office said it was disappointed by the Siac ruling and would try to overturn it in the court of appeal: "We believe that the assurances given to us by the Libyans do provide effective safeguards for the proper treatment of the individuals being returned." A spokesman said the Home Office would continue to pursue a policy of deportations with assurances.
The government's anti-terror watchdog, Lord Carlile, said he sympathised with the government and there were constitutional implications when judges blocked the course of deporting people who were not British citizens and who presented a risk to British national security.
But Shami Chakrabarti, of Liberty, said the case showed the government had to work to raise the human rights standards of friendly countries rather than dilute British standards.
Amnesty International said: "Britain should not be trying to cut a deal with torturers. If people are suspected of committing a crime, they should be charged and put on trial."
April 30 2002
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) rules that nine suspected terrorists at Belmarsh and other high security jails are held unlawfully. Suspects were detained under emergency powers brought in after September 11 attacks in US. December 16 2004
December 16 2004
Having had the Siac ruling overturned by the court of appeal in October 2002, Britain's highest court finds by an 8-1 majority that indefinite detention without trial is unlawful under European convention on human rights. December 8 2005
December 8 2005
Lords rule any evidence extracted under torture is not admissible in any British court. Seven law lords unanimously overturn an appeal court judgment which ruled torture-extracted evidence may be used provided it was obtained abroad from third parties and if Britain had not condoned or connived in the torture. February 16 2007
February 16 2007
High court quashes control order against Tunisian terror suspect 'E'. Ruling said such an order amounted to unlawful deprivation of liberty. Lords decision not to allow detention without trial led to terror suspects being given control orders, which amount to near house arrest, with 12-hour curfew.