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Mark Steel

Mark Steel: We need a minister for Abu Qatada

If al-Qa'ida were smart, they would get 50 of their men to make a DVD each

Can this be right, that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has gone to Jordan for three days to sort out deporting Abu Qatada? How dangerous is this bloke? You could understand the Minister responsible for Britain putting everything aside for three days if we'd captured The Joker, or Doctor Evil. But is Abu Qatada really in that league?

Maybe he is, and the next Batman film will star an evil villain called Shouty Man, who demands 10 billion dollars otherwise he'll yell on a blurry DVD that can be seen on YouTube for 10 minutes until the authorities take it down. It's quite an achievement to be the most dangerous man in Britain when you're only allowed out twice a day, to visit the local shop accompanied by marksmen. His preaching must be so influential that the slightest contact converts people.

There are old women he's brushed past who have confessed how, "I was just buying some cat food when he came up behind me preaching and he seemed ever so convincing. So when I got home I told my Sidney he was a heathen infidel fit only for the raging fires of eternal agony for letting me out in tights that weren't dark enough, and the next thing I know I'm at a training camp in Afghanistan firing rocket launchers, which hasn't done my shingles any good at all."

If they don't manage to sort him out in these three days, there will need to be a Minister for Abu Qatada, paid for by shutting down one of the other departments like the Foreign Office. And we should be instructed in making shelters we can crawl in when the sirens go off, in case his preaching causes the house to collapse.

If al-Qa'ida were smart, they'd take notice of this, and instead of blowing things up they'd get 50 of their men to make a DVD each and then the entire country would be dedicated to getting them sent abroad. Two thirds of the economy would be the Daily Mail, which would need to be 7,000 pages long every day to report how deadly all these madmen were.

The person who loves all this most of all must be Abu Qatada. Most people who spend their days ranting a pile of gibberish are delighted to get one response on the internet, but he's got ministers flying round the world.

And the object of Theresa May's visit is to get assurances from the Jordanian government that if we send him there and they make him stand trial, they won't use evidence obtained under torture. Which is well worth a three-day visit because if there's one thing the past year has taught us it's this: if you can't trust the word of an unelected Middle Eastern dictator then who CAN you trust?