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Death sentence for man who killed Jordanian writer charged over cartoon

Riyad Ismail shot Nahed Hattar, a secular leftist, outside Amman court where he faced trial over cartoon deemed offensive to Islam
A mourner looks on during the funeral of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar in September (AFP)

A Jordanian court on Tuesday sentenced to death a man accused of killing a writer outside an Amman court in September over a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam.

Nahed Hattar, a secular leftist from a Christian background, was hit by three bullets on the steps of the court where he had been on trial for insulting Islam after he shared a cartoon on social media that mocked Islamists.

His 49-year-old killer, Riyad Ismail, a computer engineer who worked for the education ministry, was arrested at the scene and charged with premeditated murder, terrorism and possession of an illegal firearm.

On Tuesday Ismail appeared before the military court, bearded, handcuffed and wearing a brown prison uniform to hear the judge at the state security court sentence him to "death by hanging".

Judge Ziad al-Edwan said he was sentenced "for having carried out deadly terrorist act, incitement, premeditated murder and illegal possession of a firearm."

Ismail responded by saying: "Allah suffices me because he is the best disposer of affairs" - a traditional Muslim phrase used by people who feel they have been wronged and consider that only God's judgment counts.

The court also sentenced the man who sold Ismail the gun and the man who introduced him to the weapon merchant to one year in jail each.

ANALYSIS: Hattar murder exposes cultural faultline in Jordan

Hattar's murder highlighted faultlines in a country that bills itself as a home of moderate Islam and a model for religious co-existence in a region fast running out of countries where Muslims and Christians live side-by-side in peace.

As instability has consumed the region, the country has ramped up security and maintained stability, even as it has absorbed almost a million Syrian refugees.

The attack, the first incident of its kind, put pressure on one of the most delicate areas of Jordanian society: not coexistence between Muslims and Christians, but between secularists and the rising tide of religious hardliners.

Hattar, despite being from a prominent Christian family, was a self-described “non-believer”, a secular leftist dedicated to freedom of speech. His work had in past raised the hackles of monarchists, Islamists, Palestinians and supporters of the Syrian revolution.

“The incident can be seen as an escalation of smouldering tension,” Anja Wehler-Schoeck of Amman’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), which works on promoting democracy and social justice, said at the time of the attack.

“Social media in Jordan saw a controversial debate over whether Muslims were to mourn the death of a Christian youth who had died in a car accident. A current controversy revolves around unveiled women in new school books,” she said.