AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A radical preacher deported from Britain who faces terrorism charges in his native Jordan appealed Tuesday to al-Qaida fighters in Syria to unite their ranks and end infighting.
The 53-year-old known as Abu Qatada spoke during a hearing before a military court in Jordan's 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," the radical cleric said when asked for his opinion by a Muslim scholar in the packed courtroom.
Abu Qatada, whose real name is 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 absentia and sentenced to life in prison. But under Jordanian law, he had to be retried once he returned to Jordan following his deportation in July.
The cleric has been described in courts in Britain and Spain 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 Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist 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 Sept. 11 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 time 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.
On Tuesday, he pleaded "not guilty" also in the second terror case against him.
A military prosecutor said Abu Qatada's statement of support for al-Qaida will not be used as evidence in the two cases against him because he did not address the court, but rather expressed his opinion. The prosecutor spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to comment on ongoing proceedings.
The proceedings began after the tribunal replaced one military judge with a civilian, making the three-man tribunal all civilian judges as requested by Abu 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, the cleric challenged the impartiality of the tribunal several times, raising his voice at the judges and insulting military prosecutors.
Abu Qatada 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 courtroom. Abu Qatada then turned to Atoum and said: "Shut up and sit down."
The trial will resume Jan. 16.