The military’s State Security Court in Amman announced it found 53-year-old Abu Qatada innocent for lack of evidence against him. The Muslim preacher, who was extradited last July, had pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
The military 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, and said it would deliver its verdict in that case on 7 September.
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 under Jordanian law and he was ordered to stand a new trial.
Qatada’s lawyer, Ghazi Thneibat, told reporters after the ruling that “justice has been served”. He declined to comment on the postponement of the verdict in the second case against his client.
“We are happy,” said Um Ahmed, Qatada’s sister.
Qatada is to remain in detention in Jordan pending the upcoming, second verdict. During his time in custody 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.
Following yesterday’s acquittal, Downing Street insisted Qatada is “not coming back” to Britain. The radical cleric was finally deported from the UK after a decade-long battle that cost around £2 million.
Asked if David Cameron would welcome him back if cleared, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “He can’t come back and he won’t come back.
“He is a Jordanian and he does not have a UK passport. He would not be granted permission to enter the UK, end of story.”
Once dubbed Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, Qatada arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993 and was granted asylum in the UK a year later.
Efforts to remove the father- of-five to Jordan to stand trial for alleged terrorist activities were repeatedly thwarted under human rights laws, until the state gave formal assurances evidence obtained through torture would not be used against him.
The PM’s spokesman said: “This is a man who the British courts have deemed a risk to national security.
“You saw the outcome, the very successful outcome, of all the work the Home Secretary and her team did when Mr Qatada was put on a plane to Jordan, and he is not coming back.”