CAIRO (AP) — Al-Qaida warned Britain on Tuesday not to deport to Jordan a radical Islamist preacher considered a leading figure in the terror network.
A statement from the organization posted on a militant website said Abu Qatada's expulsion would open "an unnecessary door to evil that will harm (Britain) and its subjects."
Britain has been trying for years to deport the Palestinian-Jordanian Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman. He has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al-Qaida figure in Europe and a threat to national security.
He spent six years in jail in Britain, although he has never been charged with any crime. He was freed last month on strict bail conditions that expire in three months, making British officials eager to find a solution.
The British have been exploring the possibility of sending him to Jordan, where he has been convicted in absentia of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots in 1999 and 2000 and would face a retrial if returned.
But the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January that Abu Qatada cannot be sent back to Jordan because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him if he is put on trial there.
The al-Qaida statement also invoked the possibility of torture in Jordan. "To deport him to a country known by everyone for its crimes, is something that we never accept and will not pass without (someone) being held accountable."
Jordan says it will guarantee Abu Qatada a fair trial.
Al-Qaida said the British government had committed a crime by unjustly jailing Abu Qatada for many years, even though, it said, he only "preached in words."
The group denies that Abu Qatada had any ties to it, but it said it was defending him because "the allegiance of a Muslim to his Muslim brother is above all organizational or ideological considerations."
It advised the British government "to deal with the issue with wisdom and reason far from recklessness and blind rush so that it will not regret it when it is too late."
It suggested that the preacher be allowed to go to an "Arab Spring country." Elections held in the aftermath of the pro-democracy uprisings that have swept the Middle East in the past year have resulted in Islamist-dominated parliaments in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
- Abu Qatada