UK & World News
Abu Qatada Acquitted Of Terror Conspiracy
Radical cleric Abu Qatada has been acquitted of terrorism charges by Jordan's state security court.
The verdict was in relation to a series of bomb plots in 1998, targeting the Jerusalem Hotel and American School in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The verdict on a second charge relating to a foiled bomb plot targeting tourist sites in Jordan during New Year celebrations in 2000 has been postponed.
The Palestinian-Jordanian preacher, who was once referred to as "Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" by a Spanish judge, will remain in Jordanian custody until the verdict is delivered on the second charge.
The cleric had already been convicted and sentenced on both charges by a trial in absentia, but had avoided Jordanian justice after being granted asylum in the UK.
He lost his refugee status in the UK in 2002, when he was detained on suspicion of terrorism offences, and was held on an indefinite order at various high-security establishments, such as HMP Belmarsh and Long Larton.
Following the scrapping of indefinite detention in 2005, Abu Qatada was released on a control order, and the Government began attempts to deport him to Jordan.
His eight-year legal battle to avoid deportation ended last year, after he accepted that a 'memorandum of understanding' signed between the UK and Jordanian governments meant he could receive a fair trial.
The agreement stipulated that although he would be tried in a military-security court, the case would be heard by a civilian judge.
It also guaranteed that evidence which may have been acquired through torture would not be eligible in the case.
The allegation that torture had been used to get information that incriminated Qatada was fundamental to his lawyers' case against deportation.
During Qatada's trial in absentia over the 1998 bombings, evidence from plot ringleader Abdul Nasser Al Hamasher was used to suggest Al Qaeda, via Qatada, had encouraged and supported the attacks.
Al Hamsher later alleged he had been tortured into making such statements.
During the current trial, Bethlehem-born Qatada used the platform to proclaim his innocence, but also to comment on the recent 'fitna', or disagreement, between rival jihadist rebel groups fighting in Syria.
According to the Arabic newspaper Al Hayat, Qatada called on ISIS and†jihadi rival Jahbat Al Nusra, to unify under the leadership of Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri.
Although Qatada remains in custody, his conviction on the second charge relating to the millennium celebrations plot now hangs in the balance.
The acquittal will be seen as a blow to the Home Office who spent millions fighting for his deportation, but Downing Street said he would not be allowed to return to the UK.
"This is a man who the British courts have deemed a risk to national security," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.
"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."
For the Jordanian authorities, the prospect that Qatada may soon walk free right in the midst of the tide of violence that is sweeping neighbouring Iraq and Syria will be a major concern.
Earlier this month Sheikh Abu Mohammed Al Maqdisi, another leading radical Sunni cleric who has been described as the "mentor" to Zawahiri, was released from Jordanian prison after serving a sentence for terrorism offences.