LONDON (AP) — A British court ruled Monday that an extremist cleric described as one of Europe's leading al-Qaida operatives should be released on bail.
After six years in custody, Abu Qatada could be freed within days under stringent conditions, a judge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London said.
Abu Qatada has been fighting to be released after the European Court of Human Rights ruled last month he should not be deported to face terror charges in Jordan due to fears that evidence obtained by torture would be used against him.
The British government wants to keep him in a high security prison while continuing a legal fight to have him deported.
Abu Qatada — whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman — is an extremist Muslim preacher from Jordan who has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al-Qaida figure in Europe.
A Palestinian-Jordanian citizen, Abu Qatada arrived in Britain in 1993 and was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws that at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be held in jail without charge.
Alhough Abu Qatada was released in 2005 when the unpopular law was overturned, he was kept under surveillance and arrested again within months and held pending his deportation to face terrorism charges in Jordan.
He was convicted in absentia in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots in 1999 and 2000, and would face a retrial there if deported from Britain.
Abu Qatada has never faced criminal charges in Britain, but authorities in the U.K. have accused him of advising militants and raising money for terrorist attacks.