Middle East

Abu Qatada condemns reporter killings by Islamic State

Abu Qatada in court in Amman, Jordan on 7 September 2014 Image copyright EPA

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada has condemned the beheading of two US journalists by Islamic State militants.

He said reporters were "messengers of the truth" and killing them contradicted Islamic teachings.

He was speaking to the media from the dock of a court in Amman, Jordan, during a hearing in a terrorism trial.

The case against Abu Qatada, who was deported from the UK last year after a long legal battle with the government, was adjourned until 24 September.

He is on trial in Jordan over his alleged involvement in a thwarted plot aimed at the millennium celebrations in the country in 2000.

Judges at the state security court said they needed more time to assess the evidence before announcing a verdict.

Abu Qatada has denied the allegations made by prosecutors that they had found books by him offering encouragement to the plotters. He also denies supplying funds from London to the group.

In June, Abu Qatada was cleared of a role in a 1998 bombing campaign in Jordan.

Speaking minutes before the judges came into court, Abu Qatada said: "Journalists shouldn't be killed - it's not permitted because they are messengers of the truth, unless they are working for foreign intelligence.

"The Prophet Muhammad said that the messengers should not be killed."

Image copyright Reuters

In court

Steve Swann, BBC News, Amman

Amid chaotic courtroom scenes Abu Qatada paced up and down the iron cage which separated him from his family, lawyers and journalists as we waited for the verdict which didn't come.

The cleric, wearing a brown robe, was animated as he fielded questions. Exposing the growing rift within the jihadist world, he denounced the killing of journalists by Islamic State.

But he fell short of backing Western attacks on IS and we know from writings he has smuggled out of his Jordanian prison cell he remains a supporter of al-Qaeda.

In an earlier message to his supporters he called IS "the dogs of Hellfire" because of what he termed "their evil actions." Today he reiterated that message.

When the judges announced another delay in proceedings, some of his sisters - sitting on wooden benches at the back of the court - burst into tears.

And then with a wave and a smile the man once described by a British judge as "a truly dangerous individual" was whisked out and back to prison.

Last week, an IS video emerged showing the beheading of Steven Sotloff, a US journalist being held hostage by the group. It came two weeks after similar footage showing fellow US journalist James Foley being killed.

In the latest film, IS also threatened to kill British aid worker David Haines, who it has been holding for more than a year, unless US air strikes on its positions in Iraq are halted.

Abu Qatada's comments on IS are not thought to be first time he talked about the group which has seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a new caliphate - or Islamic state.

During his recent trial, he reportedly spoke out about the conflict in neighbouring Syria, urging IS and the other main jihadist faction there, the al-Nusra Front to unite behind the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

More recently comments in Abu Qatada's name - seemingly smuggled out from his prison cell - have appeared on the internet denouncing IS.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, was granted asylum in the UK in 1994 but the security service MI5 increasingly saw him as a national security threat as his views on jihad hardened.

The cleric fought his deportation to Jordan since 2005. A treaty signed last year by Jordan and the UK removed the final obstacle to his removal.

The UK government has already made it clear Abu Qatada will not be returning to Britain as he is a foreign national who was deported on an indefinite deportation order.

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