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Jordan court acquits radical cleric of terrorism charges

[JURIST] A three-man civilian panel in the Jordanian State Security Court [Jordan government website] on Thursday declared radical preacher Abu Qatada [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] not guilty of terrorism offences relating to an alleged plot [Al Jazeera report] in 1998 on the American school in Amman. The court ruled there was insufficient evidence to find Qatada guilty of terrorism charges for the 1998 plot, but he will remain imprisoned [Reuters report] in Jordan for his alleged role in an attempted attack on tourists during the Jordanian New Year celebration of the year 2000. That hearing is scheduled for September and it extends the 20-year timeline [BBC report] of involvement with al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] in Jordan and the UK. In December Qatada's defense argued the presence of a military judge in the three-judge panel of the State Security Court violated the deportation agreement between the Jordanian and UK governments to provide Qatada with a fair trial, which was established as part of his deportation [JURIST reports] from Britain last July. Qatada was tried by a three-judge panel of civilians on Thursday, and the composition of the judicial panel of the State Security Court in September may be a point of contention [HRW report] because of its vague and controversial nature as a quasi-military judicial body with civilian judges.

Qatada, previously described as "Osama Bin Laden's right hand man in Europe," was held in the UK [JURIST report] for more than a decade since he was arrested in 2002 under the Anti-terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001 [Guardian UK backgrounder]. Qatada was sentenced [Reuters report] in absentia to life in prison by a Jordanian court before his deportation, but when he returned to Jordan at the end of 2013 he plead not guilty [JURIST report] to terrorism charges. Thursday's ruling marks the first of two challenges to overturn this conviction in his home country of Jordan. Both Jordan and the UK [JURIST reports] have denied bail to Qatada, and the judicial proceedings surrounding his imprisonment and convictions have garnered significant international attention, as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] in 2009 ordered [JURIST report] the UK to pay £2,500 in damages to Qatada after determining that he was imprisoned by the UK in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, official website].

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