Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Qatada urges al-Qaida to unite

Radical cleric Abu Qatada has made a public appeal for al-Qaida factions to stop fighting each other

Radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada, deported from Britain to face terrorism charges in his native Jordan, has appealed to al-Qaida fighters in Syria to unite their ranks and end infighting.

The 53-year-old spoke during his latest hearing before a military court in the Jordanian capital Amman.

He appealed to the two main al-Qaida factions in Syria - the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - to offer "unequivocal submissiveness" to al-Qaida's chief, Ayman al-Zawahri.

"Our brave Jihadists in Syria should unite their ranks and be obedient to Dr Ayman to prevail in the war," he said when asked for his opinion by a Muslim scholar in the packed courtroom.

Qatada, real name Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, is on trial for plotting attacks against Israelis, Americans and other Westerners in Jordan in two foiled attempts in 1999 and 2000. Jordan convicted him in his absence and sentenced to life in prison. But under Jordanian law he had to be retried once he returned following his deportation in July.

The cleric has been described in courts as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had close ties to Osama bin Laden. Britain accused him of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the September 11 attacks, and with 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 hijackers.

On his arrival in Amman, Jordanian prosecutors charged him with conspiring to carry out terror attacks in Jordan twice - once in 1999 for a foiled plot against the American school in the Jordanian capital, and another in 2000 for allegedly targeting Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during Jordan's Millennium celebrations. Earlier this month, he pleaded innocent for the Millennium terror plot.

In the latest hearing he also pleaded "not guilty" to the second terror charges.

One military prosecutor said Abu Qatada's statement of support for al-Qaida will not be used as evidence against him because he did not address the court, but rather expressed his opinion.

The proceedings began after the tribunal replaced one military judge with a civilian, making the three-man tribunal all civilian judges as requested by Qatada. The cleric previously said the presence of a military judge violated an agreement with Britain that paved way for his extradition and meant to guarantee him a fair trial in his homeland.

While in the dock, he challenged the impartiality of the tribunal several times, raising his voice at the judges and insulting military prosecutors.

He asked the court's presiding judge at one moment: "You listen: Do you think you are a fair judge?"

Col. Fawaz Atoum, the prosecutor, demanded he be removed from the court. Qatada then turned to col. Atoum and said: "Shut up and sit down."

The trial will resume in January 16.

-AP

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