Jordan court clears radical cleric of terrorism charges

Jordan court clears radical cleric of terrorism charges

PanARMENIAN.Net - Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada has been found not guilty of terrorism offences by a court in Jordan, over an alleged plot in 1998.

A panel of civilian judges sitting at the State Security Court in Amman cleared him of conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts, according to BBC News.

Abu Qatada was put on trial after being deported from the UK in July 2013 having first been arrested in 2001.

A verdict relating to another alleged plot was adjourned until September.

This verdict comes after a near decade-long legal battle to force the radical cleric to face trial in his home country, and will raise concerns that he may use his influence to destabilise the Jordanian state at a time of increasing turmoil on its borders.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, was granted asylum in the UK in 1994 but the security service MI5 increasingly saw him as a national security threat as his views on jihad hardened.

He was accused of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts following a series of bombings, including of a hotel, in Jordan in 1998 and a foiled plot to carry out attacks on civilians in Jordan to mark the millennium.

He was convicted in his absence but the convictions were eventually thrown out because they had been based on evidence which may have been acquired by torturing Abu Qatada's co-defendants.

A treaty signed last year by Jordan and the UK banned the use of such evidence from trials in Jordan, removing the final obstacle to deporting the man described by British judges as a "truly dangerous individual".

The trial was conducted at the controversial State Security Court which is housed in a military base in Marka, a suburb in the capital Amman.

At an appearance in December, Abu Qatada complained about the presence of a military judge on the panel as a "betrayal of the agreement" under which he was deported. This had specified that he must be tried by civilian judges. The make up of the tribunal was subsequently changed.

During the trial Abu Qatada reportedly spoke out about the conflict in neighbouring Syria, urging the two main jihadist factions there, the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), to unite behind the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The BBC says it has seen evidence which suggests Abu Qatada has smuggled out messages and writings from his cell in the high security Muwaqqer prison to his supporters across the world.

Laith Alkhouri, senior analyst with Flashpoint Partners, monitors extremist content online from an office in New York. He has found numerous postings on the internet which claim to be in Abu Qatada's name.

In one, the cleric is alleged to have contacted al-Zawahiri to condemn ISIS. In a letter published by the al-Nusra Front in April the cleric denounced ISIS as "the dogs of hellfire... because of their evil actions".

Elsewhere, he has written in praise of jihad as a tool for overthrowing tyrannical leaders of the Muslim world.

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