Amman/London, 7 July
Islamist cleric Abu Qatada pleaded not guilty today to terror charges pressed by Jordanian military prosecutors just hours after his deportation from Britain, his lawyer said.
Reporters were not allowed into the courtroom to hear the charges being read out despite a pledge by Information Minister Mohammad Momani of “transparency” in Jordan’s handling of Abu Qatada’s retrial on charges that already earned him a life sentence in his absence.
“State security court prosecutors charged Abu Qatada with conspiracy to carry our terrorist acts,” a judicial official said. “He was remanded in judicial custody for 15 days in the Muwaqqar prison,” in eastern Jordan, the official added without elaborating.
But Abu Qatada’s lawyer Taysir Diab said he would make a bail application tomorrow in light of the not guilty plea. “Abu Qatada pleaded not guilty. I will appeal tomorrow to the court to release him on bail,” Mr Diab said.
Jordanian law gives Abu Qatada the right to a retrial with him present in the dock following his deportation from Britain earlier today which ended a decade-long legal battle.
Abu Qatada was condemned to death in absentia in 1999 for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks, including on the American school in Amman, but the sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour.
In 2000, he was sentenced in his absence to 15 years for plotting to carry out terror attacks on tourists in Jordan during millennium celebrations.
Earlier Jordan’s information minister and government spokesman Mohammad Momani, told the state-run Petra news agency said: “The government is keen on credibility and transparency in handling the issue of Abu Qatada,” who was flown out of Britain.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the deportation of radical cleric after legal marathon, saying removing the terror suspect from Britain had been a priority for his government. Mr Cameron tweeted his pleasure just hours after Qatada, 53, left aboard a private flight bound for Jordan from RAF Northolt in west London.
Following numerous courtroom battles, it was a treaty signed between the UK and Jordan that finally secured Qatada’s departure, giving the radical preacher the assurances he needed to leave his taxpayer-funded home behind.
The agreement, announced by the home secretary, earlier this year, aimed to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the father of five at a retrial.
Qatada had pledged in May to leave Britain ~ with his family in tow if ~ and when the treaty was fully ratified, a process that to the relief of many, concluded earlier this week.
Mr Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, said: “Only 446 days after the home secretary said Abu Qatada would be on a plane shortly, he has finally reached the end of the runway. In the end, it was the king of Jordan who secured his departure by agreeing to this treaty.”
“The home secretary’s legal advisers will have questions to answer as to why they didn’t conceive of this scheme earlier which would have prevented a cost to the taxpayer of 1.7 million pounds.” Qatada spent his final months in Britain’s Belmarsh prison, after breaching a bail condition which restricted use of mobile phones and other communication devices.