Abu Qatada 'would return to Jordan'

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Radical cleric Abu Qatada would return to Jordan voluntarily if the country ratified a treaty drawn up with the UK government, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has heard.

The treaty deals with the use of evidence obtained by torture.

Abu Qatada's lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, told the court of the decision during the cleric's bail hearing.

David Cameron said he would be "one of the happiest people in Britain" if Abu Qatada were to leave voluntarily.

Abu Qatada faces terrorism charges there after being convicted in his absence in 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

It is on these charges that, under Jordanian law, he faces a retrial. But his lawyers claim he would not get a fair trial because the evidence against him comes from people who were tortured into implicating him.

He has never been charged with an offence in the UK, although the government has been trying to deport him for almost eight years, during which time he has been in and out of jail.

Prime Minister Mr Cameron said: "We have a fully worked-out plan to get this man out of our country, and if he goes of his own accord, frankly, I'll be one of the happiest people in Britain."

The cleric is currently in prison after being arrested in March for allegedly breaching his strict bail conditions.

Last year, Siac, which adjudicates on national security-related deportations, ruled Abu Qatada should not be removed from the UK because of fears that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in Jordan.

The government lost an appeal against the ruling and it also failed in its bid to get the case referred to the Supreme Court.

Treaty signed

Home Secretary Teresa May said she was subsequently applying directly to the Supreme Court for permission to challenge the ruling.

Last month, the government signed a mutual assistance treaty with Jordan - including guarantees on fair trials.

Six home secretaries have battled to banish Abu Qatada - and the cleric has fought and fought and fought.

So make no mistake, today's statement in open court that he may now be prepared to leave is something that many in government thought they would never hear.

The reason for this major development is simple.

Abu Qatada's willingness to go comes down to the strength of legal guarantees in an extensive UK-Jordan treaty signed in March - guarantees that make it harder for him to win a deportation appeal.

The document provides very clear and unambiguous assurances of fair treatment and a trial in Jordan free of evidence extracted by torture. It goes much further than a previous deal with the UK.

And that's what his legal team have always argued: Live up to what we tell other nations - only deport people back to countries that respect basic human rights.

Mrs May says she believes the treaty will provide the courts with assurance that Abu Qatada would face a fair trial in Jordan.

Mr Fitzgerald told the court there had been a "development" in the form of the treaty being signed.

"That treaty is clearly designed to meet the requirements laid down by Mr Justice Mitting as to evidence admissible at a retrial, if there is a retrial.

"If and when the Jordanian parliament ratifies the treaty, Mr Othman will voluntarily return to Jordan."

Abu Qatada is also known as Omar Othman.

Robin Tam QC, appearing in court for the home secretary, said the treaty would be laid before the Jordanian parliament within the next few weeks, and the UK side of the process should be finished by late June.

Police raid

Jordan's information minister Mohamed al-Momani has said he expects his government to ratify the treaty, saying it deals with far-ranging judicial cooperation between the two countries, which goes beyond the individual case of Abu Qatada.

He also said Jordan's prime minister and his cabinet are discussing the text dealing with judicial procedures between Jordan and the UK.

The treaty would then be sent to Jordan's 150-seat elected lower house of parliament. There, a special committee will examine the treaty's legal aspects. Afterwards, it will be dispatched to the full lower house for discussion, a vote and adoption.

Mr al-Momani said it would be "difficult" to put a timeframe on the process.

Security minister James Brokenshire said: "The home secretary's focus remains on seeing Abu Qatada returned to Jordan at the earliest opportunity. We continue to pursue this case before the courts and to work with the Jordanian government to achieve this."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "This could be very good news if it means Abu Qatada returns to Jordan as soon as possible - as we all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done.

"Abu Qatada should have made this decision a long time ago as this legal process has dragged on far too long. We will watch the next steps closely until he departs, but I hope this saga can now be brought to an end."

Theresa May Theresa May signed the fair trial guarantee treaty with Jordan in March

The Siac court also heard on Friday that Abu Qatada's house was searched on 7 March.

Police found 17 mobiles in his house, six of which were switched on. They also found three USB sticks, an SD card, five digital media devices and 55 recordable CDs or DVDs.

Abu Qatada was arrested shortly afterwards.

Mr Fitzgerald told the court on Friday that his client should be released on bail, adding: "There comes a point when detention goes on for too long."

The hearing has been adjourned until 20 May, meaning Abu Qatada will remain in a high security jail until then.

Meanwhile, following a series of raids in London - including the one at Abu Qatada's home - police in Copenhagen arrested and charged a man but will not say who he is or what he is charged with.

Scotland Yard alerted the Danes as part of its probe into whether the preacher published extremist material online while on bail.

Although Scotland Yard has not revealed the full nature of its investigation, the BBC has obtained new documents which were recently published in the preacher's name on Islamist websites.

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