Deported Islamic cleric Abu Qatada pleads not guilty in Jordan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 2:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 4:18am


Islamist cleric Abu Qatada pleaded not guilty yesterday to terror charges pressed by Jordanian military prosecutors just hours after his deportation from Britain, his lawyer said.

Britain's expulsion of the Palestinian-born preacher after a decade-long legal battle drew expressions of delight from Prime Minister David Cameron.

Abu Qatada, who had been in and out of British prisons since 2002 even though he was never convicted of any offence, had once been described as now slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe.

"Abu Qatada pleaded not guilty," defence lawyer Taysir Diab said after the closed-door hearing before a military tribunal.

"I will appeal tomorrow (Monday) to the (state security) court to release him on bail," he added.

The cleric was taken to the courthouse near Marka military airfield in east Amman just hours after he was flown in from Britain.

"State security court prosecutors charged Abu Qatada with conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts," a judicial official announced.

"He was remanded in judicial custody for 15 days in the Muwaqqar prison" in eastern Jordan, he added.

Muwaqqar is a maximum security facility built in 2007 that houses 1,100 inmates, most of them Islamist terror convicts.

"Abu Qatada told prosecutors that it was his wish to return to Jordan and that he is satisfied with that," Diab said.

A date for the trial has not yet been set.

Reporters were not allowed into the courtroom despite a pledge of "transparency" in Jordan's handling of the case.

Abu Qatada was condemned to death in absentia in 1999 for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks, including on the American school in Amman, but the sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour.

In 2000, he was sentenced in his absence to 15 years for plotting to carry out terror attacks on tourists in Jordan during millennium celebrations.

Jordanian law gives him the right to a retrial with him present in the dock.

Cameron hailed the final removal of Abu Qatada from Britain after a legal battle that cost the taxpayer £1.7 million (HK$19.6m).

"I was absolutely delighted. This is something this government said it would get done, and we have got it done," Cameron said.

"It's an issue that, like the rest of the country, has made my blood boil."

Britain was finally able to expel the 53-year-old father-of-five to Jordan after the two governments last month ratified a Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, guaranteeing that evidence obtained by torture would not be used in his retrial.