Al-Qaeda'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-Qaeda 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.

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