Al-Qaida offers to trade UK hostage for cleric

Associated Press Modified: April 30, 2012 at 8:15 am •  Published: April 30, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Al-Qaida's North African affiliate Monday offered to free a British hostage if London allows a radical cleric described as a leading figure in the terror group in Europe to leave Britain for another country.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in a statement posted Monday on a militant website said it would release Stephen Malcolm if the cleric Abu Qatada were let go. It warned that the British government would be responsible for the consequences if it follows through on a plan to deport him to Jordan, where he faces trial on terrorism charges.

Authorities in Britain have been trying to expel the Palestinian-Jordanian preacher since 2001, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled he could not be deported to Jordan because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him there.

Earlier this month, British authorities detained the cleric once again, and at the time said they were close to deporting him to Jordan.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al-Qaida figure in Europe and a threat to national security. He was first detained in Britain in 2002.

"We offer the British government an initiative to release its citizen Stephen Malcolm .... who is our prisoner, if it allows Sheik Abu Qatada to leave to one of the Arab Spring countries or any other country of his choice where he guarantees his freedom and, rights and dignity," it said.

Elections held in the aftermath of the pro-democracy uprisings that have swept the Middle East in the past year have resulted in Islamist-dominated parliaments in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.

Malcolm was kidnapped along with a Swedish and a Dutch national from a restaurant in Timbuktu, Mali in November. He also holds South African citizenship.

The terror group expressed hope that the British government would deal with the offer with "objectivity, reason and wisdom" but threatened that Britain would be responsible for the consequences if he is handed over to the Jordanian government.

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