A military court in Jordan has acquitted preacher Abu Qatada of terror charges over a foiled 1999 plot to attack an American school in the capital Amman.
The court in Amman announced today that it found the 53-year-old innocent due to a lack of evidence against him.
Qatada, who was deported from Britain last year to face trial in Jordan, had pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
Separately, the military court postponed its ruling on a second set of terrorism charges against the cleric, involving plots to attack Israelis, Americans and other Westerners in Jordan in 2000, and said it would deliver its verdict in that case in September.
In both cases, Qatada was convicted in absentia years ago and sentenced to life in prison.
On his extradition to Jordan last July, those sentences were suspended under Jordanian law and he was ordered to stand a new trial.
Qatada’s lawyer Ghazi Thneibat told reporters after the ruling that “justice has been served”. He declined to comment on the postponement of the verdict in the second case.
Qatada’s sister Um Ahmed said: “We are happy.”
The cleric is to remain in detention in Jordan pending the second verdict. During his time in custody in Jordan, he has publicised his militant ideology, advising foreign fighters to remain in Syria to battle the growing Shiite influence there and urging suicide attacks in Lebanon against Shiite targets.
Earlier on in the proceedings against him, the cleric had questioned the impartiality of Jordan’s military court, an issue that delayed his deportation from Britain for years.
But last June, Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing those worries, paving the way for his extradition.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
Qatada arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993 after fleeing a Jordanian government crackdown on militants. He was granted asylum in the UK a year later, but he eventually wore out his welcome because of his suspected militant activities, which allegedly included raising funds to finance terror plots in Jordan.