With reporting by Helen Gibson/London
As worldwide investigations into the mysteries of the Sept. 11 terror conspiracy roll on, officials in Europe have pondered an enigma: Where is Abu Qatada? Described by some justice officials as the spiritual leader and possible puppet master of al-Qaeda's European networks, Abu Qatada has been missing since mid-December after British authorities confiscated his passport, froze his assets and ordered him confined to his London home. With Jordan seeking his return to serve a life sentence for terror-related crimes, some observers figured Abu Qatada went undergroundand perhaps left Britainto avoid extradition. But senior European intelligence officials tell TIME that Abu Qatada is tucked away in a safe house in the north of England, where he and his family are being lodged, fed and clothed by British intelligence services. "The deal is that Abu Qatada is deprived of contact with extremists in London and Europe but can't be arrested or expelled because no one officially knows where he is," says the source, whose claims were corroborated by French authorities. "The British win because the last thing they want is a hot potato they can't extradite for fear of al-Qaeda reprisals but whose presence contradicts London's support of the war on terror." British security services officials declined to comment.