LONDON - Britain moved swiftly to implement its promised crackdown on "preachers of hate," launching a series of early-morning raids yesterday to round up 10 Muslim extremists, including Abu Qatada, a cleric who often is described as al-Qaida's "spiritual ambassador" in Europe.
The 10 face deportation to their countries of origin under a package of new anti-extremism measures outlined by Prime Minister Tony Blair last week.
Jordan guaranteeing that any deportees from Britain would not be executed or tortured. Blair said Britain is trying to negotiate similar agreements with several other Middle Eastern governments.
Britain's Home Office wants to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he has been tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with a series of militant plots.
"In accordance with my powers to deport individuals whose presence in the U.K. is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security, the immigration service has today detained 10 foreign nationals who I believe pose a threat to national security," Charles Clarke, the home secretary, said in a statement yesterday.
Clarke declined to name any of the detainees, but Abu Qatada's lawyer confirmed that the cleric was in custody.
Abu Qatada, also known as Sheik Omar Abu Omar, was held in Britain's Belmarsh prison without charge for about 2 1/2 years until March, when the Law Lords, Britain's highest court, ruled that such detentions were illegal.
It is believed that several of the other detainees also are former Belmarsh inmates who were released at the same time. After their release, most were subject to so-called "control orders" that amounted to a kind of house arrest.
Human-rights activists criticized the government's plans.
"What separates us from the terrorists is that we do not torture people or send them to be tortured. It should take more than self-serving assurances to demonstrate that countries with a human-rights record such as Jordan's are safe," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a human-rights group.
"It is far better for public safety that a terrorist suspect be tried than shuffled around world," she added.
Amnesty International said the agreement with Jordan was "not worth the paper it is written on."
Lawyers for Abu Qatada are expected to challenge his deportation. While the public mood has hardened in the wake of last month's attacks, it is uncertain whether Britain's courts will agree with Blair's assertion last week that "the rules of the game have changed."
Abu Qatada, 44, arrived in Britain in 1993 and was granted asylum after saying he was the victim of persecution in Jordan.
As a preacher, he became well-known among al-Qaida acolytes for his strident attacks on the West.
In a related development, another notorious London cleric, Sheik Omar Bakri, also known as Omar Bakri Muhammad, was arrested yesterday by Lebanese security authorities in Beirut. No charges were specified.
Bakri left London for Lebanon the day after Blair announced his crackdown on "preachers of hate." He said that the reason for his travels was to visit his ailing mother and that he intended to return to Britain, but British authorities say they may block his return.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.