Jordan clears Abu Qatada of terror charges

Muslim preacher expected to be freed on Wednesday after he was found not guilty of conspiring to attack tourists.

    Abu Qatada was extradited from Britain last year [AP]
    Abu Qatada was extradited from Britain last year [AP]

    Amman, Jordan - A Jordanian court has acquitted Salafist preacher Abu Qatada of charges of providing spiritual and material support for a plot to attack tourists during Jordan's New Year celebrations in 2000.

    After a legal battle that lasted for decades, Abu Qatada is due to reunite with his family in their home in Amman, according to his eldest son Qatada.

    "We are thankful to God that he received justice finally after year in between jails,” Qatada told Al Jazeera after the court ruling on Wednesday.

    Early Sunday morning, the court ruled that Mahmoud Oathman, better known as Abu Qatada, was free of alleged charges to have intended to carry out attacks in the country.

    Abu Qatada was sentenced to 15 years in absentia for the charges, which the court now acquitted him of for "lack of absolute evidence".

    The Bethlehem-born Salafist was extradited from Britain last year after a lengthy legal process and was acquitted in June in a separate case of charges of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism. That acquittal was also based on lack of evidence.

    Analysts say Jordan's decision to release Abu Qatada comes as a part of its internal war on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and extremism.

    "Jordan clearly needed his support to influence supporters of the ISIL in Jordan," said Hassan Abu Hanieh, a political analyst and expert on the Salafi movement in Jordan.

    Being a supporter al-Nusra Front, a rival of ISIL, Abu Qatada has been critical of the ISIL, calling it a "killing machine" and "dogs of hell".

    Abu Qatada has also denounced the beheadings of journalists by ISIL.

    "Journalists are messengers and messengers shall not be killed," Abu Qatada chanted to a crowd of journalists from his courtroom cell, two weeks ago before state security postponed his trial.

    Other analysts, however, said that releasing Abu Qatada is an attempt from Jordan to "cool off" the distress among Salafist members in Jordan - who are not supporters of ISIL.

    "It is not of Jordan’s interest to antagonise any movement inside it right now, especially the Salafist groups here," said Amman-based writer Rakan Saaydah.

    "They are trying to neutralise supporters of al-Nusra while they [Jordan] participate in the war against the ISIL," he explained.

    But Jordan openly took part in the US-led airstrikes against ISIL targets. The airstrikes also targeted al-Nusra Front, which Abu Qatada and many Salafist Jordanians support.

    Releasing Abu Qatada remains a challenge for Jordan. "It must have been a difficult decision for Jordan. They cannot favour a terrorist over a terrorist," Abu Hannieh noted in reference to the spilt between ISIL and al-Nusra supporters in Jordan.

    Abu Qatada, who clearly denounced the alliance against  ISIL. He "was never with any alliance against other Muslims," according to what he said to journalist two weeks ago.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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