British Judge Orders Radical Cleric's Release On Bail

A British judge on Monday ordered the release on bail within days of radical cleric Abu Qatada, allegedly a former top aide of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, despite concerns he poses a security risk.

Abu Qatada shown in 2005 in an image provided by the British Prison Service.

A British judge on Monday ordered the release on bail within days of radical cleric Abu Qatada, allegedly a former top aide of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, despite concerns he poses a security risk.

Britain has been trying to deport the 51-year-old to Jordan for the past six years but its efforts were blocked last month by the European Court of Human Rights, which said evidence against him may have been obtained through torture.

Following the European court ruling, Qatada applied to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in Britain to be released from the high-security Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire, central England.

His lawyer Ed Fitzgerald told a hearing on Monday that Qatada's detention for six and a half years while fighting deportation "has now gone on for too long to be reasonable or lawful".

"However the risk of absconding, however the risk of further offending, there comes a point when it's just too long," he said.

Judge John Mitting said Qatada should be set free under "highly prescriptive terms" with the cleric confined to his home for all but two one-hour periods each day. He will also be able to take one of his children to school.

The judge added that Home Secretary Theresa May has three months to show that progress is made in getting assurances from Jordan that evidence gained through torture would not be used against Qatada if he were deported.

"The time will arrive quite soon when continuing detention or deprivation of liberty could not be justified," Mitting told the court.

The judge said it would take "between a few days and about a week" for Britain's domestic intelligence service MI5 to check the proposed bail address, which was not revealed in court, before Qatada could be released.

The cleric, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin who is also known as Omar Mohammed Othman, was once labelled Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe by a Spanish judge.