Muslim Cleric Wanted by Jordan on Terror Charges Freed From U.K. Jail

Palestinian-Jordanian Abu Qatada, 52, has been held in British custody for seven years without trial; he is wanted on terrorism charges in Jordan.

A Muslim cleric wanted for trial on terrorism charges in Jordan was on Tuesday freed on bail from a prison in Britain following a court ruling that he would not be guaranteed a fair trial in the Middle Eastern country. 

Abu Qatada, 52, who has been held in British custody for seven years without trial, was freed from a high-security jail in Worcestershire, in central England, and driven to his home in London.

His release, under strict bail conditions, followed a ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) that, despite assurances given by the Jordanian government, there remained a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used in any trial.

The British government has said it will appeal the decision by Siac - a semi-secret court dealing with national security deportations in Britain.

"I am completely fed up with the fact that this man is still at large in our country," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in Rome, where he met his Italian counterpart Mario Monti.

However, legal experts said the government's chances of success in winning a further appeal in the long-running case are limited. The Jordanian government also said it was "disappointed" by the

Speaking to the BBC Tuesday, Jordan's information minister, Nayef al-Fayez, said his government would "work closely" with Britain over the "next few months or so" to break the deadlock over Qatada.

British Home Secretary Theresa May has negotiated for weeks with the Jordanian government over the assurances. The matter has even been taken up by Jordan's King Abdullah II and Prime Minister David Cameron.

It is expected to be discussed again later this month when Abdullah is due to visit Britain.

Al-Fayez stressed that the British court had acknowledged the assurances given by Jordan, and that the Jordanian constitution the use of "any sort of torture."

However, human rights groups have challenged that assertion. Ben Ward, of Human Rights Watch, said his group did not consider assurances from the Jordanian government "worth the paper they're written on."

He added: "They may be given in good faith, but the fact is that torture evidence is still routinely used in Jordanian courts."

David Anderson, Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said Tuesday that it was now up to Jordan to supply further proof that evidence gained through torture would not be used.

"The key to this case really lies in Jordan," Anderson told the BBC.

While the British government has repeatedly vowed to continue its efforts to deport Qatada, legal experts points out that the terrorism suspect would be a free man should a further appeal bid fail.

Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian, has been described as a "national security threat" by the British government. A Spanish judge once called him Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe."

Qatada, who arrived in Britain in 1993, has in the past delivered fiery speeches to supporters in Britain, expressing backing for the al-Qaida terrorist network and urging the "killing of Jews and Christians."

He was convicted in his absence of terrorism charges by the Jordanian authorities in 1999 for involvement in plots to attack Western and Israeli targets in Jordan.

The accusations are understood to relate to bombings at an American school in Jordan and a plot to attack tourist targets.

During the appeal hearing that halted his deportation, the presiding judge said that the evidence linking Qatada to the alleged plots looked "extremely thin."