LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday agreed to cooperate over thus-far unsuccessful attempts to deport extremist cleric Abu Qatada from London to Amman, the U.K. leader's office said.
Cameron telephoned Abdullah from a summit in Stockholm, Sweden, ahead of a planned visit to Jordan by Britain's security minister James Brokenshire to discuss the case.
After a six-year-long legal battle, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last month that Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian citizen, could not be sent from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges because there is a risk evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in a Jordanian court.
Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, is an extremist preacher who has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al-Qaida figure in Europe.
The cleric has been imprisoned for more than six years while he fights deportation but is due to be released on bail in Britain next week following the ruling, a fact which has prompted alarm among some lawmakers.
Cameron "explained the frustrating and difficult position that the ruling had created for the U.K.," in the telephone call, a spokeswoman for his office said, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
"They agreed on the importance of finding an effective solution to this case, in the interests of both Britain and Jordan," she said.
Jordan had already signed an agreement with Britain offering assurances that Abu Qatada would not be mistreated if deported there. Britain is likely to now seek a new pledge that evidence obtained through torture would not be used in his case.
Abu Qatada arrived in Britain in 1993 on a forged passport and was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be held in jail without charge.
He was released in 2005, but kept under surveillance and arrested again within months, to be held pending his deportation to face terrorism charges in Jordan.
The cleric was convicted in his absence in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots in 1999 and 2000, and will face a retrial if deported.
He has never faced criminal charges in Britain, although authorities have accused him of advising militants and raising money for terrorist attacks. He "is a leading spiritual adviser with extensive links to, and influence over, extreme Islamists in the U.K. and overseas," prosecutors told a British court in 2007.
Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission has previously been told Abu Qatada also was suspected of links to a bomb plot in Strasbourg, France, and to the raising of funds for terrorism in Chechnya.