Radical Cleric Abu Qatada Freed From UK Prison
British officials call him a threat to national security
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 13, 2012 7:23 PM CST
An undated 2005 image shows Abu Qatada making a televised appeal from Belmarsh high security prison in London.   (AP Photo/ H.M. Prison Service, File)

(Newser) – Abu Qatada, a radical Muslim cleric whom British officials say is an al-Qaeda figurehead and a threat to national security, was freed from an English prison into virtual house arrest late today, British media reported. Judicial officials acknowledged earlier in the day that the 51-year-old extremist preacher's release from Long Lartin jail was imminent, but declined to comment on the reports from the BBC and Sky News, citing operational concerns.

Both broadcasters aired photographs that appeared to show Abu Qatada in the backseat of a van as it left the high-security prison 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. British officials say he poses a serious threat to the country's security, but attempts to deport him to Jordan to face terrorism charges was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights. "We are clear we want to remove Abu Qatada at the earliest opportunity," said a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.