LONDON: The right-hand man of slain Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Europe may be released after a court ruled he could not be deported from Britain to his native Jordan over fears that he would be denied a fair trial there.
Abu Qatada was told by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights that he would not have to go back to Jordan where he has been convicted of terror charges in his absence. He may even walk free later this year, the Daily Mail reported.
Britain has three months to appeal against the ruling. But Qatada is not currently facing trial in the country and has not been convicted in accordance with the British law.
The European judges ruled that Qatada could not be deported because "there remains a real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him", and he would not receive a fair trial.
This was the first time the court has found that an expulsion would be in violation of the right to a fair trial.
British Home Secretary Theresa May said she was disappointed but it was "not the end of the road". Qatada would remain in prison while all the legal options are considered, she said.
He is currently being held at the Belmarsh prison at a cost to Britain of 70,000 pounds a year. His family is believed to be living in an 800,000 pound house and using benefits worth around 50,000 pounds a year.
Qatada was held in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, a year after being stopped by British police with an envelope "for the mujaheedin in Chechnya".
In a judgement in February 2009, five law lords backed the government's policy to remove terror suspects from Britain on the basis of assurances from foreign governments.
But Qatada's lawyers appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled in Qatada's favour, saying there were reasonable grounds for believing he would be denied a fair trial in Jordan because evidence against him could have been extracted through torture.
But the law lords overturned that ruling in 2009, saying there was no proof that evidence against Qatada had been obtained through torture.
Qatada -- a father of five -- came to Britain in 1993 on a forged passport.
He has issued a series of influential fatwas -- or religious rulings -- in support of the killing of non-believers. A number of his videos were found in the Hamburg flat of Mohammed Atta, one of the ring-leaders of the 9/11 hijackers.
In 1999, he was convicted in his absence in Jordan of conspiracy to carry out bomb attacks on two hotels in Amman and providing finance and advice for another planned series of bombings. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.