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Qatada fights deportation from UK

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Abu Qatada has been described as al Qaeda's "spiritual ambassador" in Europe but has denied meeting Osama bin Laden.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A man described as Osama bin Laden's "spiritual leader in Europe" has launched an appeal against the British government's bid to deport him.

Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada brought his case to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SICA) in London.

The legal team for Qatada argue that it is unsafe for him to be deported to his home country of Jordan, where he has been convicted in his absence of involvement with terror attacks in 1998.

Opening the case for Home Secretary John Reid, Ian Burnett QC, said: "The Secretary of State considers that the appellant's presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security."

British government lawyers also argued that he had many connections to terrorist organizations and that he was in agreement with them, CNN's Paula Hancocks reported.

Burnett pointed out that a previous ruling by Siac in March 2004 had concluded that Qatada was a "truly dangerous individual" and that he was "heavily involved, indeed was at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al Quaeda," the UK's Press Association reported.

The terror suspect was described as the "European spiritual leader" of an al Qaeda related terror group by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon during an investigation into Spanish ties to the September 11 attacks.

It has been said in the past that Qatada has been in talks with Osama bin Laden, Hancocks said, but in an interview with CNN in 1991 Qatada denied this.

However he did say he would not object to meting the al Qaeda leader and he would be "honored" to meet him.

The case has gone ahead after last year the British government reached a "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) with Jordan assuring that suspects shipped to that country from Britain would be "treated correctly."

Britain is not allowed under international law to send people back to a country where they face torture or the death penalty.

The defence team for Qatada, who is also known as Omar Mohammed Othman, is expected to argue that the MOU does not provide a guarantee that he will be safe.

The hearing is expected to last 10 days.

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