In a dramatic move, the radical cleric Abu Qatada on Friday offered to return to his native Jordan voluntarily to stand trial on terror charges if the Jordanian government ratified a treaty it signed with Britain recently guaranteeing that evidence obtained through torture would not be used against him.
The treaty signed in March is yet to be ratified by Jordan’s Parliament.
The offer, which took the Home Office by surprise, came during a hearing on whether Qatada should be granted bail following a string of court rulings that he could not be deported as there was a risk that he would not get a fair trial in Jordan.
Last month, the British Government lost an appeal to take the case to the Supreme Court.
Abu Qatada’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court: "There has been a development in the form of a treaty signed on 24 March. That treaty is clearly designed to meet the requirements laid down… as to evidence admissible at a retrial, if there is a retrial. If and when the Jordanian parliament ratifies the treaty, Mr Othman (Qatada’s real name) will voluntarily return to Jordan."
Demanding his release, Mr Fitzgerald said “There comes a point when detention goes on for too long."
Mr. Qatada, once described as Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man’’ in Europe, has been in and out of jail over the past decade spending more than seven years behind bars without ever being charged.
The hearing was put off until May 20.
The Home Office said the government remained “determined to put Abu Qatada on a plane back to Jordan". Home Secretary Theresa May was confident that the Jordanian government would ratify the treaty.
Mr. Qatada fled to Britain in 1993 claiming that he was tortured by Jordanian authorities. He was convicted in absentia for his alleged involvement in two major terrorism plots in Jordan. He claims his conviction was based on evidence obtained through torture.