By Peter Griffiths
LONDON (Reuters) - A Jordanian cleric once described as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" won an appeal in the European courts on Tuesday to stop Britain from deporting him to Jordan to stand trial on terrorism charges.
Seven judges at the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the preacher known as Abu Qatada would not receive a fair trial in Jordan because evidence against him may have been obtained using torture.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, has been fighting attempts to deport him for six years and his case has become a key test of how Britain treats foreign suspects accused of having links with groups such as al Qaeda.
A court in Jordan has found Qatada guilty in his absence of involvement in two bomb plots and a senior British judge has described him as a "truly dangerous" supporter of radical Islamist groups.
The European court said a deal signed between Britain and Jordan in 2005 to protect deported suspects from torture or abuse would uphold Qatada's human rights. However, the judges said any retrial was likely to be flawed.
"In the absence of any assurance by Jordan that the torture evidence would not be used ... his deportation to Jordan to be retried would give rise to a flagrant denial of justice," the court said in a statement.
The British government has three months to request a review of the case by another five judges at the European court. Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May appeared to suggest that Britain was likely to challenge the decision.
"This is not the end of the road, and we will now consider all the legal options available to us. In the meantime, Qatada will remain in detention in the UK," she said in a statement.
Qatada, who was born in 1960 near Bethlehem, then part of Jordan and now of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is being held in Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, central England.
Never formally charged with an offence, he has been in and out of custody and been held under a form of house arrest since he was first detained under anti-terrorism laws in 2002.
Human rights groups say he should stand trial in Britain. That is highly unlikely due to worries that some of the evidence against him was extracted using torture. Ministers also fear that a trial could compromise the work of the security services who investigated Qatada.
"If Abu Qatada is to be tried for terrorism, this should happen in a British court without further delay," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of rights group Liberty.
(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Mark Heinrich)