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Muslim cleric loses benefits fight

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

LONDON, England -- A Muslim cleric alleged by Spanish authorities to be a "key contact" of Osama bin Laden in Europe has lost his court fight to keep his British state benefits.

But Sheikh Abu Qatada did win a legal ruling that the "law of humanity" requires him and other terrorist suspects whose assets have been frozen to be provided with "the bare necessities of life."

Sheikh Abu Qatada, a Palestinian who moved to Britain in 1993 as a political refugee, was accused last week by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon of being the "spiritual leader" of bin Laden's movement in Europe. He denies the allegation.

Qatada, using his alias of Omar Mohammed Othman, lost a High Court battle in which he challenged the British government's decision to suspend his Income Support benefit after being named as having suspected links with bin Laden.

But the judge added that "the law of humanity comes to the aid of the claimant and others who might be in the same situation."

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Qatada's benefits payments were stopped after anti-terrorist officials found he had assets totalling 180,000 pounds.

Qatada was arrested by British anti-terror police in February but released without charge.

Britain has made a number of arrests in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States and at least eight men are awaiting extradition in connection with violence abroad.

The United States has blamed bin Laden's al Qaeda organisation for the attacks on New York and Washington.

Eleven of the 19 hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were said to have stayed in Britain at some point during the nine months before September 11.

A week ago the Muslim cleric was 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.

"I belong to no organisation, neither al Qaeda nor any other organisation," 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 organisation 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.


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