British judge delays Abu Qatada deportation decision

LONDON (REUTERS) - A decision on whether to overturn a decision blocking the deportation of radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges will made by the end of the month, a British judge ruled on Monday.

Britain has been trying for years to get rid of Qatada, who it accuses of inspiring one of the 9/11 hijackers and of being a national security risk.

The cleric, once described by a Spanish judge as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", is wanted in Jordan on charges of encouraging militants there who planned bomb attacks in 1999 and 2000. He argues a trial in his homeland would be skewed by evidence obtained using torture.

The British government launched an appeal on Monday against a decision by the Special Immigrations Appeals Commission (SIAC) last November to block his deportation.

Lawyer James Eadie told three senior judges at London's Court of Appeal that improvements to the Jordanian state security court and considerable international attention, meant Qatada would not be subjected to a "flagrantly unfair retrial"in Jordan.

Jordan convicted Qatada, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, in his absence but under a deal struck with Britain in 2005, he would have a retrial, with assurances about his treatment and guarantees that court hearings would be fair.

Eadie argued SIAC was ill-placed to determine the conditions he would face in a Jordanian court and said a fair trial was possible.

However, Judge John Dyson said Eadie would have to show SIAC had made an error in law and stated that torture was still widespread in the Jordanian security system.

He said the appeal court would issue its decision before Easter. Easter Sunday falls on March 31 this year.

Qatada, who was arrested in Britain in 2002, was sent to a British jail on Saturday for breaching strict bail terms and was not present at Monday's hearing in London.

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