AMMONNEWS - Abu Qatada, a radical Islamist cleric once described as "Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe", could be back on the streets within days after a judge ordered an urgent bail hearing.
Qatada, who is fighting deportation to Jordan, has been granted the hearing because he has already been detained or under effective house arrest for six and a half years, a tribunal ruled.
The decision came as it emerged the UK Government is in urgent talks with Jordan to secure further assurances that Qatada can fairly stand trial there, where he faces terrorism charges.
Last week, the European Court of Human Rights said he should not be deported because his right to a fair trial is at risk amid concerns some of the evidence against him was obtained by torture.
Negotiations with Jordan or any possible appeal against the European court ruling are likely to take time, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission heard.
As a result Mr Justice Mitting said the bail case must be heard “within days not weeks” and set a date of Monday February 6.
It means, if he grants bail, Qatada, who is currently being held in the high security Long Lartin prison, could be free within a fortnight.
Home Secretary Theresa May vowed to fight the move saying he would be kept behind bars while she considered all legal options to send him back.
His defence team argued his continued detention was unlawful.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission tribunal heard that Qatada, 51, has had his liberties restricted for some six-and-a-half years and is now being held behind bars in Worcestershire.
Insisting a bail hearing should be expedited, Mr Justice Mitting told the central London hearing: "Six-and-a-half years of detention requires the eligibility for bail to be considered urgently.
"I accept that it's possible that negotiations with the Jordanian government may produce a rapid solution but past experience ... leads me to believe that is likely to be an unrealistic expectation."
Robin Tam QC, for the Home Office, said ministerial discussions were taking place with the Jordanians over whether "arrangements can be reached" so Qatada's deportation is progressed.
This would mean Britain is given the assurances it requires that any evidence gained through torture would not be used in a trial.
Mr Tam told the hearing there was a "realistic prospect" that an "understanding" would emerge between the two governments.
"It is certainly not the case that there will be a long and unproductive hiatus," he said.
"There is hope that a further meeting will actually take place later this week with the Jordanian authorities.
"This isn't something which has been allowed to languish."
Danny Friedman, for Qatada, told the hearing the terrorist could face a further two years of detention if he is not granted bail while his deportation case is being resolved.
"That, we would say, is an extended period of time and one, we would seek to add, that is unreasonable."
Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the September 11 bombers.
Since 2001, when fears of the domestic terror threat rose in the aftermath of the attacks, he has challenged, and ultimately thwarted, every attempt by the Government to detain and deport him.
Law Lords ruled almost three years ago that he could be sent back to Jordan and Lord Phillips, now president of the Supreme Court – the highest court in the land – said torture in another country does not require the UK "to retain in this country, to the detriment of national security, a terrorist suspect".
But the human rights court went against that judgment, agreeing with the earlier 2008 decision of the Court of Appeal which said there were reasonable grounds for believing he would be denied a fair trial in Jordan.
Home Office spokesman said: "We will strongly resist any application to release Qatada on bail.
"We believe he poses a real risk to national security."
* The Daily Telegraph