LONDON — A radical Islamist cleric described by prosecutors as a key Al Qaeda operative in Europe cannot be deported from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges, judges ruled Monday in the latest twist in a protracted legal saga.
Britain’s government has been attempting since 2001 to expel radical preacher Abu Qatada, who has previously been convicted in his absence in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots.
Though the country’s Home Office said it intended to appeal the decision, Judge John Mitting granted the cleric bail and said he would be freed from prison on Tuesday — despite a claim from a government lawyer that he poses a major security threat.
Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-born Jordanian cleric whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, was convicted in Jordan of terrorist plots in 1999 and 2000. He will face a retrial if deported and sent there.
Britain’s government has insisted it has won assurances from Jordan over how Abu Qatada’s case would be handled — including from King Abdullah II, who met with British Prime Minister David Cameron last week.
But judges said there is a real risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against the cleric.
In Monday’s ruling, Britain’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which handles major terrorism and deportation cases, said it is not convinced that Jordan would guarantee the cleric a fair trial.
It endorsed the January ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which said that ‘‘not only is torture widespread in Jordan, so too is the use of torture evidence by its courts.’’
British Home Secretary Theresa May struck back, saying her government ‘‘strongly disagrees’’ with the ruling and believes Mitting ‘‘applied the wrong legal test’’ in ruling in Abu Qatada’s favor, given the assurances from the Jordanians over his trial and treatment.