A Jordanian military court on yesterday acquitted al-Qaida-linked preacher Abu Qatada of terrorism charges over a foiled 1999 plot to attack an American school in the country's capital, Amman.
The military's State Security Court in Amman announced it found 53-year-old Qatada innocent for lack of evidence against him.
The Muslim preacher, deported from Britain last year to face a re-trial in his native Jordan, had pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
Separately, the court postponed its ruling on a second set of terrorism charges against the cleric, involving plots in 2000 to attack Israelis, Americans and other Westerners in Jordan. It said it would deliver its verdict in that case on September 7.
In both cases, Qatada was convicted in absentia years ago and sentenced to life in prison. But on his extradition to Jordan last July, those sentences were suspended and he was ordered to stand a new trial.
"I think that justice has taken its place here today," Qatada's lawyer, Ghazi Thneibat, said after the ruling.
"We are happy," said Um Ahmed, Qatada's sister. "But I want him to leave with us."
The cleric is to remain in detention in Jordan pending the second, upcoming verdict.
While in custody so far in Jordan, he has publicised his militant ideology, advising foreign fighters to remain in Syria to battle the growing Shiite influence there and urging suicide attacks in Lebanon against Shiite targets.
Earlier on in the proceedings against him, the cleric had questioned the impartiality of Jordan's military court, an issue that delayed his deportation from Britain for years.
But last June, Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture to ease those worries and pave the way for his extradition.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaeda figure with close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
Britain accused him of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. Recordings of some of the cleric's sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg used by some of the September 11 hijackers.
Qatada arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993 after fleeing a Jordanian government crackdown on militants. He was granted asylum in the UK a year later, but he eventually wore out his welcome because of his suspected militant activities, which allegedly included raising funds to finance terror plots in Jordan.