26 Jun 2014

Abu Qatada acquitted of terrorism conspiracy charge

Jordan’s state security court acquits radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada of charges of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.

The cleric, who was extradited from Britain after a lengthy legal process, will continue to be held because of separate charges related to a plot to attack tourists during Jordan’s New Year celebrations in 2000.

The Islamist preacher had previously been sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to life imprisonment for conspiracy to carry out Al-Qaeda-style attacks against US and other targets inside US ally Jordan.

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller reports from Jordan

Abu Qatada entered the court in brown dish-dasha and sandals. He sat in a caged section of the courtroom, hands clasped on his lap. He paid attention to the judge as he made his pronouncement, but during procedural bits, he leant forward and surveyed the packed courtroom, looking bored. The cage was guarded by several Special Forces soldiers.

The court verdict was attended by at least ten family members, including his London-born son, Qatada, who wore a long black beard similar to his father's. Diplomats from the British and American Embassies also attended, as did both foreign and local journalists. Cameras were permitted into the court for the duration of the proceedings.

When the acquittal verdict was read out, there was an audible gasp in the courtroom and family members converged to embrace. Abu Qatada smiled and gave a small wave to his family when the verdict was reached. After the hearing, Qatada was led away again amidst heavily armed security and an armed convoy which included the black-windowed police van left the court about 15 minutes after the verdict was announced.

Thursday’s session was a retrial in which the prosecution had argued he was a mentor to jihadist cells in Jordan while he was in Britain, providing spiritual and material support to a campaign of violence during the late 1990s.

But the court quashed the conspiracy charges on Thursday due to a lack of sufficient evidence. It postponed another hearing on the New Year plot charges until 7 September.

Read more from Jonathan Miller: Abu Qatada's acquittal is a sign of difficult times in Jordan

In December Abu Qatada‘s lawyer called for his client’s release, saying his rights had been violated by the presence of the military judge in court and reliance on evidence that was extracted under torture from other defendants.

Linked by a Spanish judge to the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, Abu Qatada was in and out of jail in Britain since first being arrested in 2001. He was extradited to Jordan in July last year.

Jordanian security officials and experts on Islamist radical groups say Abu Qatada’s ideological writings have influenced many youths involved with Al-Qaeda.