Police convoy leaves Abu Qatada prison in Britain

A police convoy including an armoured van swept out of the high security British jail housing radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada on Saturday, ahead of his expected deportation to Jordan to face terror charges.

The cavalcade consisting of a blue police armoured van, two saloon cars and a Range Rover left Belmarsh prison in southeast London at high speed at 11:57pm (2257 GMT), an AFP photographer said.

It could not be immediately confirmed that Abu Qatada was in the convoy but there had been no other major vehicular movements at the prison on Saturday evening.

Abu Qatada, whom British officials have been trying to deport for nearly a decade, is expected to fly out of RAF Northolt airbase in west London in the early hours of Sunday, British media reported.

Jordanian officials have told AFP they expect the 53-year-old preacher to arrive in Amman on a British military plane on Sunday morning.

Britain is deporting the Palestinian-born cleric after the two governments last month formally approved a treaty guaranteeing that evidence obtained by torture would not be used against him in any trial.

He was condemned to death in 1999 for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks including on the American school in Amman but the sentence was immediately reduced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

In 2000, he was sentenced to 15 years for plotting to carry out terror attacks on tourists during the millennium celebrations in Jordan.