Radical cleric Abu Qatada acquitted of terrorism charges in Jordan
Abu Qatada was found not guilty of plotting terrorist attacks but will continue to be held by Jordanian authorities on separate charges (File/AFP)
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The British Government today vowed to do everything in its power to prevent Abu Qatada’s return to UK after the radical Islamist preacher was acquitted of terrorism offences by a court in Jordan.
Britain fought a legal battle lasting nearly a decade to deport the cleric, which finally succeeded in July when he was put on a flight to Amman.
His removal - which followed a treaty between Britain and Jordan guaranteeing his right to a fair and open retrial - won widespread plaudits for Theresa May, the Home Secretary.
Qatada, real name Omar Mohammad Othman, had been accused of plotting two al-Qaida-style terror attacks against Western targets in Jordan in the late 1990s.
The 53-year-old was cleared by a panel of civilian judges sitting at the State Security Court in Amman, it was announced this morning.
He remains in jail awaiting prosecution on separate charges, but the court’s decision prompted speculation that he could attempt to come back to Britain.
But Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the Government would fiercely resist any attempt by him to return.
He said: “What is absolutely clear to me is this man needed to face justice and needed to do so out of the United Kingdom and that’s what this government finally achieved.”
Asked if Britain would do everything possible to stop Qatada’s return, Mr Clegg told LBC Radio: “Of course. We don’t want this man back.”
Sources close to Mrs May have also indicated that the Home Secretary would use all her powers to block his return if he was freed by Jordan.
Qatada had previously been sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to life imprisonment for conspiracy to carry out attacks against the U.S. and inside Jordan.
Today’s court hearing was a retrial in which the prosecution had argued he was a mentor to jihadist cells in Jordan while he was in Britain, providing spiritual and material support to a campaign of violence during the late 1990s.
But the court quashed the conspiracy charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
Since his arrival in Jordan in July, Qatada has been on remand at the high security Muwaqqar jail outside Amaan. It is home to 1,000 inmates, many of them accused of terrorism
In December Abu Qatada's lawyer called for his client's release, saying his rights had been violated by the presence of the military judge in court and reliance on evidence that was extracted under torture from other defendants.
He will continue to be held because of separate charges related to a plot to attack tourists during Jordan's New Year celebrations in 2000.
By Nigel Morris, Heather Saul