Radical Islamist preacher Abu Qatada was cleared of terror charges by a Jordanian court today, but British authorities quickly ruled out any possibility of his return to the United Kingdom, where he was granted asylum 20 years ago.
The court acquitted Abu Qatada, who infuriated the British government with his impassioned speeches in support of Al Qaeda, of involvement in a plot to target Israeli and American tourists as well as Western diplomats during millennium celebrations in Jordan, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling punctuates a 15-year legal battle saga that played out in Britain and Jordan. Abu Qatada was deported to Jordan last year after fighting extradition from Britain for years.
The court's ruling Wednesday bookends another case, involving a plan to attack an American school in Amman in 1999, for which he was acquitted in June, according to the AP.
Britain’s Home Office moved quickly to reiterate its stance from earlier this summer: Abu Qatada will not be allowed back.
“He can’t come back, and he won’t come back. He is a Jordanian and he does not have a UK passport. He is also the subject of an indefinite deportation order as well. He would not be granted permission to enter the UK, end of story,” the office said, according to The Guardian.
Home Secretary Theresa May, who headed UK government efforts to remove Abu Qatada, also cited a UN travel ban, the BBC reported.
Abu Qatada arrived in Britain in 1993, and was granted refugee status a year later because he had been tortured by Jordanian authorities, the Monitor reported.
But British authorities began to revise their opinion of him after he vocally espoused a militant Islam, giving sermons that urged suicide attacks and the targeting of Jews.
In response to the verdict, which surprised many, Britain’s immigration and security minister, James Brokenshire, said: “it is right that the due process of law has taken place in Jordan,” according to the AP. He said Britain deported Abu Qatada because he posed a threat to national security.
During his stay in the UK, Abu Qatada was convicted of conspiring in the two Jordanian plots but both convictions were thrown out as they were based on evidence gathered under torture, according to the BBC.
Jordan and the UK eventually concluded a treaty banning the use of such evidence from trials in Jordan involving British deportees, allowing the British government to deport Abu Qatada.
Abu Qatada spent much of his time in the UK in maximum security prisons and under house arrest, according to the Guardian. But the extended delay over extradition ultimately played in his favor, it notes.
David Blunkett, who was Home Secretary when Abu Qatada was detained in 2002, told the BBC the length of time it took to deport him complicated securing a conviction. “Abu Qatada's managed to do what he wanted to do, which was to prevaricate for 10 years. By doing that he's made it very much more difficult for the prosecution. However, it also proves that he was wrong, because the case he made against extradition was that he wouldn't receive a fair trial in Jordan and he clearly has.”
The AP reported Judge Ahmed Qattarneh said the Jordanian three-judge panel acquitted Abu Qatada “because of the lack of convincing charges against him.”
Despite his radical credentials, the Muslim cleric has become an outspoken critic of the Islamic State, condemning the group’s excessive use of violence.
During a court appearance earlier this month, he criticized the group’s beheading of Western journalists, saying, “Journalists shouldn’t be killed – it’s not permitted because they are messengers of the truth, unless they are working for foreign intelligence,” according to the BBC.