30/04/2012 07:38 BST

Al-Qaeda Offer To Release Hostage Stephen Malcolm 'In Return For Abu Qatada'

Al-Qaeda has offered to free a British hostage if the radical cleric Abu Qatada is released by the UK, a statement claimed today.

The terror group's North African branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), warned Britain against continuing with its plans to deport Qatada to Jordan, saying it would have to "bear the consequences" of such a move.

But the group said it would release hostage Stephen Malcolm, who it said has dual British and South African nationality, if Qatada was sent to one of the so-called Arab Spring countries - including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen - instead.

In an unverified statement on an Islamist website, Aqim said: "The initiative to the British Government is to release its citizen Stephen Malcolm, who also has South African nationality, if it deports Abu Qatada to one of the 'Arab Spring' countries.

"If Britain ignores this offer it will bear the consequences of handing Abu Qatada to the Jordanian government."

Malcolm is thought to be one of nine Europeans seized by the al Qaida branch in Mali and Niger since September 2010.

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Home Secretary Theresa May is trying to deport Qatada, who is currently in the high-security Belmarsh prison in south east London, to Jordan, where he faces a retrial on terror charges.

But she has warned it may be months before the 51-year-old is put on a plane.

Qatada, described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, has been fighting efforts to deport him for 10 years.

In the latest move, his lawyers have applied to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in a bid to block the move.

The appeal prompted a row with the Government over whether the three-month appeal deadline from the court's decision on January 17 that Qatada could be deported with the necessary assurances from Jordan expired on the night of April 16 or 17.

Last week May said she had "unambiguous legal advice" from the government's lawyers about the deadline to deport the Jordanian terror suspect.

It risks seeing the radical cleric freed and back on Britain's streets within weeks if a senior immigration judge rules that deportation is not imminent.

The Home Office declined to comment on Aqim's statement.