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UK Muslim cleric denies terror links

Abu Qatada
Abu Qatada has been linked to people with alleged ties to Osama bin Laden  

By CNN's Jim Boulden

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Abu Qatada has once again been linked to people who themselves allegedly have ties to Osama bin Laden.

This time the Muslim cleric is listed in official documents of prosecutors in Spain, where authorities have arrested eight men, claiming they have direct links to the September 11 attacks.

The alleged leader of that group, Imad Yarkas, has been linked to Mohammed Atta, who is suspected of steering the first plane into the World Trade Center.

The Spanish allege Yarkas made 20 trips to Britain to meet with Qatada.

But the 40-year-old Palestinian, who spoke to CNN in recent weeks, denies continued media claims of links to bin Laden or any others suspected of terrorism.

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"I belong to no organization, neither al Qaeda nor any other organization," Qatada told CNN on November 5.

"But being a scholar and teaching people about religion, there is nothing to stop anyone who belongs to al Qaeda or any other organization to listen to me, ask my opinion or learn from me. This is a normal relationship within Muslim communities."

Qatada, who lives in west London, was granted political asylum in Britain in 1993 after he fled from Jordan, where he was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to death for terrorist acts.

London has long been a base for people fleeing other governments. But since September 11, the number of Middle Eastern men living in London linked to terror has alarmed the press, public and now the government.

A new law is being rushed through Parliament that would allow extended detention of those considered a threat to national security -- even if there isn't evidence of terrorist acts.

The law, expected to be on the books by the new year, could lead to the incarceration of a number of Muslim clerics, including Qatada.

Qatada's name also has been linked by British and U.S. authorities to a bank account, now frozen, which investigators claim could be used for funding terrorism.

But Qatada's lawyer says he is just one of many Middle Eastern dissidents being caught up in a "witch hunt."

Qatada has not been charged in the UK with any criminal acts.

"There is about 10 people, not just Abu Qatada, there is about 10 people who are under scrutiny of the security services for the last 10 years," says terrorism expert Mustafa Alani.

"And according to the laws at that time, there is not evidence to accuse those people of involvement of any terrorist action. The problem now, we have a new environment."


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