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Jordan to begin trial of radical Muslim preacher

December 8, 2013

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A Jordanian military court will start on Tuesday to hear the trial of a radical Muslim preacher deported from Britain to face terrorism charges at home, a court official said.

Prosecutors have charged the cleric, Abu Qatada, 53, with conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis, Americans and other Westerners in Jordan in two foiled plots in 1999 and 2000. In both cases, Abu Qatada was convicted in absentia years ago and sentenced to life in prison.

But with his return on July 7, those sentences have been suspended and he will receive a new trial.

The official said Sunday Abu Qatada will enter his plea in the opening hearing at Jordan’s military State Security Court. He insisted on anonymity because he is not allowed to comment on a case to be heard in court.

Abu Qatada has questioned the impartiality of the military court, an issue that delayed his deportation from Britain for years. But in June, Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing those worries, paving the way for his extradition.

In July, Jordanian 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, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had 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. Audio recordings of some of the cleric’s sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Abu Qatada arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993 after fleeing a Jordanian government crackdown on militants. He was granted asylum in the U.K. 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.

British authorities first tried to deport Abu Qatada in 2001, then detained him a year later under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. Though he was released in 2005 when the unpopular law was overturned, the cleric was kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways.

Britain’s original efforts to deport Abu Qatada were blocked by courts over concerns that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him. After years of successfully fighting the numerous attempts to expel him from the U.K., Abu Qatada indicated last summer he would voluntarily return to Jordan after the treaty on torture is ratified.

That treaty explicitly bans the use of evidence “where there are serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture or ill-treatment.”

Abu Qatada’s lawyer, when contacted by The Associated Press, said he no longer represented the preacher. The court official said a court-appointed lawyer will be named Tuesday.

Update hourly