LONDON (AP) — Some of the evidence collected in Jordan against a radical Islamist accused of being a senior al-Qaida figure is weak, a British judge who is hearing his appeal against extradition said Wednesday.
Lawyers for Abu Qatada are asking an immigration tribunal to halt his extradition to Jordan, which British authorities have sought for a decade.
His lawyers say the 51-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian could be tortured and would not get a fair trial in Jordan, where he faces terrorism charges.
Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been convicted in absentia in Jordan over bomb plots and faces retrial if extradited.
Britain has signed an agreement with Jordan which it says ensures the preacher will not face ill-treatment, but his lawyers say the agreement does not offer sufficient protection, and argue that evidence against him was obtained through torture.
Abu Qatada's lawyer, Danny Friedman, told the court that "there are some very serious problems with the case against Mr. Othman, the basis on which he was convicted" in Jordan.
Judge John Mitting agreed that the evidence used against Abu Qatada "seems a bit thin."
He spoke at the start of an eight-day hearing before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which handles deportation and national security cases.
Abu Qatada has been described in British and Spanish courts as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe.
He has fought attempts to extradite him from Britain since 2001.
Earlier this year he was denied permission to take his case to a European court, but it could still be some time before he is removed from Britain, where extradition cases can drag on for years.
Last week authorities finally managed to send another radical cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, and four other terrorist suspects to the United States. They had fought extradition for between eight and 14 years.
Abu Qatada has spent most of the past decade in jail in Britain as a security risk, although he has not been charged with any crime in the U.K. A bail application was rejected in May because a judge said it would be too risky to have him on the streets during the London Olympics.
Lawyer Robin Tam, representing the British government, said Wednesday that Britain had received "new information and assurances" from Jordan guaranteeing that Abu Qatada would be treated fairly.
He said fears expressed by Abu Qatada's lawyers were groundless, and "the appellant is scraping the barrel in this appeal."