Jordan’s state security court has acquitted Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who was extradited from Britain last year, of charges of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.
But Qatada will continue to be held because of separate charges related to a plot to attack tourists during Jordan’s New Year celebrations in 2000.
The preacher – who is seen as a spiritual guide to al Qaeda – had previously been sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to life imprisonment for conspiracy to carry out al Qaeda-style attacks against US and other targets inside US ally Jordan.
Thursday’s session 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. It postponed another hearing on the New Year plot charges until Sept 7.
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.
Linked by a Spanish judge to the late al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, Abu Qatada was in and out of jail in Britain since first being arrested in 2001. He was extradited to Jordan in July last year.
Jordanian security officials and experts on Islamist radical groups say Abu Qatada’s ideological writings have influenced many youths involved with al Qaeda.
Moreover, while Qatada has been incarcerated he has been issuing advice to al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, praising their “jihad” against Bashar al Assad and warning them against their rival jihadi group ISIS.
In April this year he wrote: “I tried my utmost in private and in public to repel all harm from all those affiliated with Jihad and the people of Jihad, however some of them are drowning in falsehood, evil and misguidance. Their main priority is to ruin the Jihad and not to do good towards it. The onus these words should be held by the command of the Islamic State of Iraq and their branch in the land of Ash-Shaam (Syria).
“It has become clear for me with certainty and without a shadow of doubt that this group with its military and Islamic leadership, and whose actions testify that they are ‘the dogs of Hellfire’. And they are most deserving of the description of the Prophet (peace the peace and blessings be upon Him): “They kill the people of Islam and they leave the people of the idols [idol worshippers]. By Allah! If I live to see them, I will kill them like the people of ‘Aad were killed.”