A Jordanian court on Wednesday acquitted radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada — known for his fiery pro-al Qaeda speeches — of involvement in a plot to target Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats in Jordan more than a decade ago.
The ruling capped a lengthy legal odyssey for the 53-year-old cleric who has been described as a onetime lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, but in recent months emerged as a harsh critic of the Islamic State militant group. Abu Qatada was deported from Britain to Jordan last year, after years of fighting extradition.
The cleric’s release comes at a time when Jordan views the Islamic State militants, who have seized large swaths of territory in neighboring Syria and Iraq, as a growing threat.
With his credentials as a leading jihadist preacher, Abu Qatada could help legitimize the international campaign against the Islamic State and curb the group’s appeal among Jordan’s disaffected youth, analysts said.
The preacher was given a hero’s welcome Wednesday in the Nazzal neighborhood of the Jordanian capital Amman.
Women ululated as he walked up several flights of an outdoor stairway to his family home, thronged by journalists and supporters trying to duck hard candy being thrown from above in celebration.