AMMAN Jordan has removed the last hurdle preventing Britain from sending radical cleric Abu Qatada back home for trial by approving an extradition treaty satisfying British concerns about evidence used against him, officials said on Wednesday.
The British government has for years been unable to deport Abu Qatada back to his native Jordan, where he is wanted on alleged terrorism charges, because judges have said evidence obtained through torture could be used against him.
The saga has been embarrassing for Britain's Conservative-led government, which wants to appear tough on security and immigration.
An extradition agreement, passed by the lower house of Jordan's parliament last week and by the senate on Tuesday, must still be signed by King Abdullah before it becomes law, a move expected as early as next week.
"This should be the last legal impediment and will clear the way for the British authorities to deport him. In our case there was never a problem to return him," a Jordanian official who requested anonymity said.
Under a legal deal signed between London and Amman last April, the treaty will be ratified by the British government by June 21. This should remove the last major legal obstacle to his deportation to Jordan, Amman-based diplomatic sources said.
The treaty includes guarantees that those returned under its provisions will not face a trial based on evidence obtained by torture.
Once described by a Spanish judge as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", Abu Qatada has been in and out of jail since first being arrested in 2001, and was sent back to prison last March for breaching his bail conditions.
British officials say it could still take several months to secure Abu Qatada's deportation, even after the latest move.
Under a deal struck in 2005, Jordan has given Britain diplomatic assurances about his treatment and guarantees that court hearings would be fair.
Jordan convicted Abu Qatada in his absence of encouraging militants there who planned bomb attacks in 1999 and 2000. Under the 2005 deal, however, he will have a retrial if he is returned to Jordan.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Michael Roddy)