Radical Muslim cleric pleads innocent to terrorism

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada pleaded innocent to terrorism charges in Jordan on Sunday, his lawyer said, hours after a decade-long legal battle ended with his deportation from Britain.

His return was viewed as a victory in Jordan, whose 2001 extradition request was blocked in British and European courts over human rights concerns. Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty last month on torture aimed at easing those worries, clearing the way for his deportation.

Jordan convicted Abu Qatada, 53, in absentia over two separate cases involving al-Qaida linked plans to attack Americans, Israelis and other Westerners in 1999 and 2000. That conviction now has been suspended however in light of the new trial.

Lawyer Tayseer Thiab said his client “told military prosecutors that he is not guilty of terrorism and rejected the charges against him.”

In nearly two hours of questioning, prosecutors charged Abu Qatada with conspiring to carry out terror attacks in Jordan twice — once in 1999 for a foiled plot against the American school in Amman and another time in 2000 for allegedly targeting Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during new year celebrations.

Abu Qatada was ordered detained Sunday for 15 days pending further questioning, according to one of the prosecutors. He said the cleric will be held at Muwaqar I, a prison in Amman’s southeastern industrial suburb of Sahab. The military district attorney banned the publication of the prosecutors’ names.

Thiab said he will try to free his client on bail Monday.

Abu Qatada arrived at Amman’s civilian airport on a British aircraft and was whisked away by masked anti-terrorism police in a 12-car convoy to the nearby premises of the military State Security Court. Police sealed off the area as the convoy drove against traffic to the court building, just across the street from the airport. Armed policemen kept a crush of journalists at bay.

Standing at the entrance of the court building, Abu Qatada’s father, Mahmoud, told the Associated press that he had “nothing to say, except that my son is innocent and I hope the court will set him free.”

Abu Qatada’s younger brother Ibrahim said he and his father met the cleric for 15 minutes in the prosecutor’s office. He said his brother “looked well and in high spirits.” He said he told them British and Jordanian authorities did not use hand cuffs.

Asked about the reunion, the bearded man in a long Arab robe said: “How do you think I felt seeing my brother after 22 years?

“Look at my eyes and you’ll know the answer,” he said tearfully.


Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.

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