Abu Qatada cleared of terror charges by Jordan court and released from jail
Radical preacher Abu Qatada, the subject of a near decade-long battle by the UK government to be deported to the Middle East to face terrorism charges, has been acquitted in a Jordanian court and released from prison.
On Wednesday, the court in Amman ruled there was insufficient evidence against Abu Qatada, with the judge describing the charges as weak and inadmissible.
In 2000, Abu Qatada was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia for plotting to carry out terror attacks on Americans and Israelis during millennium celebrations in Jordan. It was these charges he was acquitted of on Wednesday.
Six British home secretaries spent a total of £1.7m trying numerous diplomatic moves to assuage judges’ fears that sending the preacher to Jordan would breach his human rights.
Theresa May, the British home secretary, was finally able to deport the father-of-five, once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, after the UK and Jordan signed a treaty stating that evidence gathered against him would not be used in any retrial.
Separately, the 53-year-old preacher was acquitted in June in another case, a foiled 1999 plan to attack an American school in Amman. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Home Office insisted there was no question of him returning to the UK.
A spokesman said: “Abu Qatada’s retrial in Jordan was made possible thanks to this government’s determination to successfully deport him from the UK to face the courts in his own country.
“It is right that the due process of law has taken place in Jordan. The UK courts agreed that Abu Qatada posed a threat to national security in the UK, so we are pleased that we were able to remove him.
“Abu Qatada remains subject to a deportation order and a United Nations travel ban. He is not coming back to the UK.”
A few weeks ago, Qatada surprised his radical following when he dismissed Islamic State’s murder of US prisoner James Foley, as un-Islamic. Speaking from his courtroom cell in Jordan, he told journalists: “Messengers should not be killed.”
Seven armoured guards stood in front of Abu Qatada’s cell as he entered the court in brown detainment robes. The cleric was quiet, blowing a kiss to his family members filing a row of courtroom seats. They sat calmly, some smiling. “Inshallah, he will be with us today,” Abu Qatada’s sister said.
The judge read through Abu Qatada’s charges and evidence brought against him, and then dismissed them as insufficient for conviction. “The accused is found innocent,” he announced. Abu Qatada’s family members rose, shouting, cheering and embracing as journalists swarmed around them.
Abu Qatada’s lawyers gave interviews outside the courtroom. “Justice took place today,” said Ghazi Althunibat, one of the defendant’s lawyers.
“The decision is aligned with Jordanian law and the UK treaty. He is innocent and he deserved to be declared innocent.”
Althunibat restated Abu Qatada’s opposition to Islamic State, saying: “He didn’t make these statements because of pressure from Jordan’s courts,” insisting he supported the freeing of hostages such as UK citizen Alan Henning.
“He is against Daesh [the Arabic term for Islamic State] and everything they do. He believes their actions are against Islam.”
Mubaidin, another one of Abu Qatada’s lawyers, said he had expected this decision. “There is no substantial evidence against him in the first place,” he said. “Abu Qatada wanted to come back for a fair trial in Jordan and we are thankful that Britain sent him back. No further charges stand against Abu Qatada.”
“We are very happy. We expected this,” one of the cleric’s sons said from outside the court.