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Published: Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 7:05:02 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 7:06:09 PM

Abu Qatada challenges Jordanian court authority in terrorism trial

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada arrives back at his home after being released on bail, in London, November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada arrives back at his home after being released on bail, in London, November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall

AMMAN (Reuters) - Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada told a Jordanian court on Tuesday he was not guilty of terrorism charges and challenged its authority to try him under the terms of his extradition from Britain five months ago.

Appearing in court in brown prison fatigues, Abu Qatada said the presence of a military judge in the panel of three judges violated the agreement under which he was flown back to Jordan in July after many years of legal battles in Britain.

While in Britain he was convicted and sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to life imprisonment for conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. and other targets inside Jordan. He is now being retried on those charges.

"I have been prevented from defending myself for a long period, and God knows that I am innocent," said Abu Qatada, saying that the charges against him were fabricated.

"There has been a betrayal of the agreement under which I have come. There is now a military judge - this is the first betrayal by you. I have come to be tried by civilian judges," said the Islamist cleric, whose real name is Mahmoud Othman.

"This court is a betrayal of the agreement and I don't recognise it," he said.

His lawyer Ghazi Thuneibat called for Abu Qatada's release, saying his client's rights had been violated by the presence of a military judge. But prosecutor Fawaz al-Atoum said Jordan's state security court law allowed for military tribunals in cases of terrorism.

Linked by a Spanish judge to the late al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, Abu Qatada was in and out of jail in Britain since first being arrested in 2001. He was sent back to prison last March for breaching his bail conditions.

His return was made possible by an extradition treaty adopted by Jordan and Britain that satisfied the concerns of British judges about the use of evidence obtained through torture.

Sermons of the heavily bearded Abu Qatada were found in a Hamburg flat used by some of those who carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

(Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi, Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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