- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

LONDON (AP) — New pledges from Jordan to offer a fair trial to a radical Islamist cleric should end Britain’s lengthy campaign to send the preacher to the Arab country, Home Secretary Theresa May told lawmakers Tuesday.

Since 2001, authorities in Britain have been trying to expel Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian preacher described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al Qaeda figure in Europe.

Following a protracted legal battle, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January that Abu Qatada could not be deported to Jordan because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him there.

Abu Qatada has previously been convicted in his absence in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots in 1999 and 2000, and he will face a retrial if deported from Britain.

Following two visits by British ministers to Jordan and telephone talks between Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Britain had secured a series of pledges to address the European court’s concerns, May said.

Jordan agreed that Abu Qatada would have his previous conviction quashed pending a new trial, will have his case heard in public before civilian judges, and will be granted access to regular defense lawyers.

Mrs. May said that Jordan had vowed that no information gleaned through torture would be used in the cleric’s case and had changed its constitution to bar the use of such evidence.

In its January ruling, the European court said “not only is torture widespread in Jordan, so too is the use of torture evidence by its courts.”

Mrs. May, who visited Jordan last month, said Britain believes the new assurances will lead both British and European courts to dismiss any fresh appeal by the cleric against his deportation.

“I believe the assurances and the information we have gathered will mean that we can soon put Qatada on a plane and get him out of our country for good,” Mrs. May told lawmakers to cheers in the House of Commons.

Mrs. May said that Britain first had attempted to deport Abu Qatada, also known as Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, in December 2001 but repeatedly had been frustrated by the sluggish progress of court appeals.

The cleric was detained in Britain in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. Though he was released in 2005 when the unpopular law was overturned, Abu Qatada was kept under surveillance and arrested again within months to be held in custody pending his deportation to Jordan.

Following the European court’s ruling, the cleric had been freed in February on strict bail conditions, including a curfew.

Earlier Tuesday, Abu Qatada was arrested by U.K. Border Agency officers amid the new move to expel him from Britain. He was refused bail at a hearing at London’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which handles deportation and security cases.

The cleric’s lawyer, Ed Fitzgerald, told the court that Britain’s arguments for deportation were based on “a series of unsubstantiated claims.”

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