AMMAN, Jordan — A radical Muslim preacher described as a key al-Qaeda operative in Europe on Sunday rejected terrorism charges linked to alleged plots targeting Americans and Israelis in Jordan, his attorney said, hours after Britain deported him to bring an end to a decade-long legal saga over his extradition.
Jordan submitted an extradition request to British authorities for the militant cleric known as Abu Qatada in 2001, but it was blocked in British and European courts over human rights concerns. Last month, Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing those worries, paving the way for the 53-year-old preacher’s deportation.
Abu Qatada arrived at Amman’s civilian airport early Sunday on board a British aircraft and was whisked away by heavily armed anti-terrorism police to a nearby courthouse for questioning. Police sealed off the area as the convoy drove against traffic to the court building, just across the street from the airport. Armed police officers kept a crush of journalists at bay.
After nearly two hours of questioning, prosecutors charged Abu Qatada with conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in Jordan twice — a foiled plot against the American school in Amman in 1999 and a scheme allegedly targeting Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during the 2000 new year celebrations.
In both cases, Abu Qatada was convicted in absentia years ago and sentenced to life in prison. With his return to Jordan, those sentences have been suspended; he will receive a new trial.
Abu Qatada’s attorney, Tayseer Thiab, said his client “told military prosecutors that he is not guilty of terrorism and rejected the charges against him.”
Jordanian authorities ordered Abu Qatada held for 15 days pending further questioning, according to one of the prosecutors. He said the cleric will be held at Muwaqqar I, a prison in Amman’s southeastern industrial suburb of Sahab. The military district attorney has banned the publication of the prosecutors’ names.
Thiab said he will try to win bail for his client on Monday.
Outside the courthouse, Abu Qatada’s father, Mahmoud, told the Associated Press that his “son is innocent, and I hope the court will set him free.”
The cleric’s younger brother, Ibrahim, said that he and his father met with Abu Qatada for 15 minutes in the prosecutor’s office and that his brother “looked well and in high spirits.” Ibrahim said that the three prayed together and that the cleric “kissed my dad’s hands and feet when he saw him.” Abu Qatada told them that British and Jordanian authorities had not used hand cuffs, the brother said.
Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaeda figure in Europe who had close ties to Osama bin Laden.
Britain accused him of links to Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and to “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. Audio recordings of some of the cleric’s sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Abu Qatada arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993 after fleeing a Jordanian government crackdown on militants. He was granted asylum by British authorities a year later, but he eventually wore out his welcome because of his suspected militant activities, which allegedly included raising funds to finance terrorism plots in Jordan.
— Associated Press