AMMAN - Jordan and Britain on Wednesday signed a controversial non-legally binding agreement allowing for undesirables to be deported from one country to the other without fear of torture.
The move could pave the way for the deportation to Jordan of an Islamist cleric linked to Al-Qaeda, Omar Abu Omar, alias Abu Qatada, sentenced in Amman to life imprisonment and currently under house arrest in Britain.
Jordan's Interior Minister Awni Yervas signed the memorandum of understanding with British charge d'affaires Pat Philips, saying it guarantees that the "personal and civil rights" of those expelled will be respected.
Those expelled would have the right to a lawyer and not to be ill-treated, Yervas said.
But Yervas was non-committal over the possibility of Abu Qatada being sent back to Jordan.
"London has not yet informed us of its intention to send (Qatada) back to Jordan and the kingdom has not asked for his extradition," he said.
Qatada is suspected of inspiring Mohammed Atta, the leader of the September 11 hijackers, and shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a plane over the Atlantic in December 2001.
The British government said in July that it had reached an initial agreement to allow it to deport Jordanian nationals wanted in their country without fear of mistreatment, the first in a series of similar accords with other countries.
Under international law, Britain is prevented from sending people back to a country where they might face inhuman or degrading treatment and has a policy of not returning people to face the death penalty.
But rights group Amnesty International slammed the agreement as "not worth the paper it's written on".
"Such promises from countries like Jordan, which are known to use torture, are not worth the paper they are written on," said the London-based group's Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth.
"These assurances rely on the good faith of states that are known to torture their subjects - a practice which few states admit to. How does (British Home Secretary) Charles Clarke propose to monitor whether these promises are being honoured?"
Abu Qatada, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, is widely described as terror mastermind Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe".
A Jordanian court sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment in 1998 for his alleged involvement in a series of explosions.
He was again sentenced to jail in September 2000 for financing a dismantled network linked to Al-Qaeda that had plotted attacks against US and Jewish targets and Christian pilgrimage sites during millennium celebrations.
Abu Qatada was granted refugee status in Britain in 1994 after entering the country with false documents.
Tapes of Abu Qatada's sermons were found in a Hamburg flat used by some of the September 11 hijackers.