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Jordan acquits Qatada over plot to attack American school

A Jordanian court acquitted hardline cleric Abu Qatada on charges related to a plot to attack an American school in 1998
Abu Qatada being escorted by British police before his extradition (Wikicommons)

Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada, who was extradited from Britian in July of last year, was acquitted by a Jordan court Thursday of plotting an attack on the American school in Amman, but he faces another terrorism charge and will remain in prison. 

"The court did not find evidence to support charges against Omar Mahmud Mohammed Otman (Abu Qatada) that he conspired in late 1998 to carry out a terror attack on the American school in Amman," judge Ahmad Qatarneh said in a ruling.

"Based on that, the court unanimously declares the innocence of Omar Mahmud Mohammed Otman for lack evidence," added Qatarneh, before asking journalists to leave the court.

The cleric burst into tears when the judge made the ruling and members of his family rushed to hug and kiss him.

The Palestinian-born preacher was condemned to death in absentia in 1999 by an Amman court for conspiracy to carry out an attack on the American school. The sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour.

In 2000, he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years for plotting to attack tourists in Jordan during millenium celebrations.

In line with Jordanian laws, he is now appearing in a retrial and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The court adjourned the trial until 7 September.

Reacting to the ruling, British Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said the retrial was made possible due to the British government's "determination to successfully deport him from the UK."

"While the courts in Jordan have acquitted Qatada of one of the two charges against him, it is right the due process of law is allowed to take place in his own country," Brokenshire said in a statement.

"We await a verdict on the remaining charge."

Abu Qatada, who adheres to a Salafist-Jihadist ideology, was granted asylum by the UK in 1994. British authorities, however, sought his deportation for several years as British judges described him as a "threat to the UK's national security."

Khaled al-Zuneibat, Abu Qatada's lawyer, told reporters outside the court:

"This verdict has proven the integrity of Jordan's judiciary,"

 "God willing, the court will also acquit him in September," he said.

Analysts and officials from Jordan’s security apparatus believe that Qatada has had significant impact on young people connected with extremist groups by means of his ideological writings.

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