A British minister headed to Jordan Tuesday to seek a deal that would allow London to extradite Abu Qatada, as the Islamist cleric once dubbed an aide to Osama bin Laden spent his first day out on bail.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire flew to Amman, government sources said, after Prime Minister David Cameron spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah II last week about finding an “effective solution” to the case.
Britain has been trying to extradite Qatada to Jordan for the past six years, claiming he is a serious risk to national security, but its efforts have been thwarted on human rights grounds.
The 51-year-old cleric has been in prison for most of that time, but a British judge last week ruled that he must be released while he awaits his fate, albeit on tough bail conditions that are akin to house arrest.
Qatada was released on Monday to his home in London, but will only be allowed out for two one-hour periods a day. He is banned from visiting a mosque and from using the telephone and the Internet.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled last month that Britain cannot deport the Jordanian to his homeland because evidence used against him in any trial there may have been obtained through torture.
Qatada, once labelled late Al-Qaeda chief bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe by a Spanish judge, was convicted in Jordan in his absence of involvement in terror attacks in 1998.
British officials have vowed to “exhaust all avenues open to get Qatada on a plane”, and believes that an assurance from Amman that torture evidence will not be used against him would overcome the ECHR’s concerns.
Ayman Odeh, the Jordanian legislative affairs minister, told Britain’s Sky News television on Monday that his country had passed a constitutional amendment in September to ban the use of evidence obtained through torture.
“We are confident that once we have the chance to make this statement through the diplomatic channels… (it) will be taken into consideration,” he said.
“We are now making the necessary arrangements to do such assurances through the British government. Very soon something will be done for this purpose.”
London has three months to agree a deal with Jordan, after which the British judge indicated he would relax Qatada’s bail conditions — a move certain to cause horror in Cameron’s Conservative party and Britain’s tabloid press.