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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Muslim cleric denies terror link
Benefit claimants
The cleric has been living on benefit for eight years
A Muslim cleric, who lives in London, has denied having links to international terrorism after having his assets frozen.

Benefit payments to Sheikh Abu Qatada, of west London have been suspended after a probe into his suspected terrorist links allegedly found 180,000 in his bank account.

The cleric was named last week in a Treasury list of terrorist suspects and his assets were frozen.


Until now, I have worn Arab dress and I have a beard and it is very easy for them to choose someone like me to shoot at

Sheikh Abu Qatada
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Qatada said he believes he is the victim of anti-Islamic prejudice.

"I have said many times that in this country you just wanted a target to shoot at and you wanted someone to talk about and I think I am a very suitable person for this target practice.

"I am a big target with a big belly. Until now, I have worn Arab dress and I have a beard and it is very easy for them to choose someone like me to shoot at."

The Department of Work and Pensions has now launched an investigation following the discovery of the account.

Mr Qatada, 40, was granted political asylum when he arrived in Britain in 1993.

Since then he has been living on benefits in Acton, west London.

A spokeswoman for the department said: "Acting on information received, Sheikh Abu Qatada's benefits were suspended with immediate effect on Friday pending an investigation."

Admiration for Bin Laden

Mr Qatada said he had no connections with any terrorist group and denied claims that he controlled a bank account containing 180,000.

He confessed to an admiration for Osama Bin Laden.

"Bin Laden was one of those people who witnessed the corruption of our governments and they are corrupt because of their connections with you and because of their contacts with the Americans, the British and the Europeans."

Mr Qatada refused to condemn outright the terrorist atrocities of 11 September.

"It is not the size of the action that matters, it is the reason behind it which matters.

"It would only be a bad act if there were no American bases in Bin Laden's country. He has got a problem because the Americans have military bases and control everything in his country, loot his country and control its politics and economics."

Released without charge

Mr Qatada was one of nine people arrested in London in February this year on suspicion of committing offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.

All nine were later released without charge on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.

"I was imprisoned for four days just because they found my name in the possession of someone who was arrested in Germany.

"They searched my house, they searched every single book, in fact, they helped me, they found my national insurance card in one of the books. They haven't given it back."

Mr Qatada is a wanted man in Jordan, where he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in his absence for alleged involvement in a number of explosions in 1998.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Jordanian authorities also suspect him of helping to finance plans for a series of terrorist attacks to coincide with the millennium.

It says Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist organisation is believed to have devised the millennium bombing campaign, which was foiled by police.

Mr Qatada is thought to have met Bin Laden in 1989 while working as a teacher in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border.

He is also suspected of having links to Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who was arrested by the US authorities in August, the Telegraph reported.

Death penalty

Mr Qatada said he still felt relatively safe in Britain despite feeling singled out because he fits "Western pre-conceptions of a terrorist suspect".

"There is no doubt that one feels safe here, more so than at home but it is obvious that there are some practices here that are not clean whether by the press or the security services.

"They are trying to disturb me, flush me out like a bird which they can then shoot."

The Metropolitan Police said Mr Qatada could not be extradited to Jordan to serve his sentence.

There are no extradition links between the two countries because Jordan still has the death penalty.

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