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Abu Qatada pleads not guilty to terrorism charges

Radical cleric Abu Qatada [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in a Jordanian court on Tuesday and challenged the court's authority to try him under the terms of his deportation [JURIST report] from Britain earlier this year. Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, argued that the presence of a military judge in the three-judge panel overseeing his trial violates an agreement [JURIST report] that the Jordanian and British governments had worked out prior to his deportation. The Islamist cleric had already been sentenced [Reuters report] in absentia to life in prison by a Jordanian court for conspiracy to carry out two terrorist attacks against US and other targets, but after his deportation those sentences were suspended. He is now being retried on those charges, although each case will be heard separately. Qatada claims that the charges brought against him were fabricated [AP report]. The court adjourned the proceedings until December 24.

Qatada was charged in Jordan in July with "conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts," and a Jordan military court subsequently rejected [JURIST report] his application for bail. Qatada was deported earlier that month from London's Belmarsh prison to the prison of Muwaggar in Amman, Jordan. Qatada's in absentia sentences to life in prison were for conspiring to carry out al Qaeda [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive] linked attacks in Jordan. Qatada was held in the UK for more than a decade since he was arrested in 2002 under an anti-terrorism act. In April the UK Court of Appeals refused to allow the government to appeal to the Supreme Court an earlier decision not to deport [JURIST reports] Qatada until a fair trial treaty had been ratified, fearing Qatada would be tortured upon his return to Jordan. The UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission denied bail last year after Qatada was granted bail [JURIST reports] and rearrested to begin deportation proceedings. In February of 2009, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ordered the UK [JURIST report] to pay $2,500 in damages to Qataba after determining that he was imprisoned by the UK in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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