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Published: Thursday June 26, 2014 MYT 4:50:04 PM
Updated: Thursday June 26, 2014 MYT 4:50:04 PM

Jordanian court acquits radical cleric Abu Qatada of conspiracy

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's state security court on Thursday acquitted radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who was extradited from Britain last year, of charges of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.

But the cleric will continue to be held because of separate charges related to a plot to attack tourists during Jordan's New Year celebrations in 2000.

The Islamist preacher had previously been sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to life imprisonment for conspiracy to carry out al Qaeda-style attacks against U.S. and other targets inside U.S. ally Jordan.

Thursday's session was a retrial in which the prosecution had argued he was a mentor to jihadist cells in Jordan while he was in Britain, providing spiritual and material support to a campaign of violence during the late 1990s.

But the court quashed the conspiracy charges on Thursday due to a lack of sufficient evidence. It postponed another hearing on the New Year plot charges until Sept 7.

In December Abu Qatada's lawyer called for his client's release, saying his rights had been violated by the presence of the military judge in court and reliance on evidence that was extracted under torture from other defendants.

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 extradited to Jordan in July last year.

Jordanian security officials and experts on Islamist radical groups say Abu Qatada's ideological writings have influenced many youths involved with al Qaeda.

(Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi, Writing by Sylvia Westall, Editing by Dominic Evans and Janet Lawrence)

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