Militant group offers British hostage in return for Qatada

By Oliver Hotham

A faction of Al-Qaida in North Africa is offering the release of a British citizen in exchange for the release of radical cleric Abu Qatada.

The group, calling themselves Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, are proposing the return of Stephen Malcolm, who was abducted last November, if the British government release Qatada.

Mr Malcolm is a dual British and South African citizen who was seized last November along with two others from a restaurant in Mali, Timbuktu.

A statement by the group said he would be released if "the British government will allow the deportation of Sheikh Abu Qatada to one of the Arab Spring countries or any other country of his choice that will ensure his freedom, rights and dignity".

It warned that Britain will "bear the consequences of handing Abu Qatada to the Jordanian government" and threatened to "open the doors of hell for their country and expats, who are scattered all over the region".

The Home Office has declined to comment on the offer.

Abu Qatada is wanted in his native Jordan for conspiracy to commit acts of terror and has been described as Al-Qaida's "spiritual leader" in Europe.

His deportation from the United Kingdom was blocked by the European court of human rights, which expressed concerned that evidence used against him in a trial might have been obtained under torture.

The Home Office triumphantly announced his imminent deportation a few weeks ago, but stressed it may take months to officially get rid of him.