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Suspected al-Qaida cleric deported to Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan -- A radical Muslim preacher described as a key al-Qaida operative in Europe rejected terrorism charges yesterday linked to alleged plots targeting Americans and Israelis in Jordan, his lawyer said, hours after Britain deported him to bring an end to a decadelong legal saga over his extradition.

Jordan first submitted an extradition request to U.K. authorities for the militant cleric known as Abu Qatada in 2001, but it was blocked in British and European courts over human rights concerns. Last month, Britain and Jordan ratified a treaty on torture aimed at easing those worries, paving the way for the 53-year-old preacher's deportation.

Abu Qatada arrived at Amman's civilian airport yesterday on board a British aircraft and was immediately whisked away by heavily armed anti-terrorism police for questioning at a nearby courthouse.

Police sealed off the area as the convoy drove against traffic to the court building, just across the street from the airport. Armed policemen kept a crush of journalists at bay.

After nearly two hours of questioning, Jordanian prosecutors charged Abu Qatada with conspiring to carry out terror attacks in Jordan twice -- once in 1999 for a foiled plot against the American school in Amman and another time in 2000 for allegedly targeting Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats during New Year's celebrations.

In both cases, Abu Qatada was convicted in absentia years ago and sentenced to life in prison. With his return, those sentences have been suspended and he will receive a new trial.

Abu Qatada's lawyer, Tayseer Thiab, said his client "told military prosecutors that he is not guilty of terrorism and rejected the charges against him."

Jordanian authorities ordered Abu Qatada held for 15 days pending further questioning, according to one of the prosecutors.

He said the cleric will be held at Muwaqar I, a prison in Amman's southeastern industrial suburb of Sahab.

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