Abu Qatada continues work from Jordanian prison

Following his extradition from the United Kingdom, Jordanian Salafist leader Abu Qatada has continued his leadership role for Islamist fighters in Syria from his prison cell.

al-monitor Muslim cleric Abu Qatada (L) prepares to board a small aircraft bound for Jordan during his deportation, at Royal Air Force base Northolt in London, July 7, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Sgt Ralph Merry/Royal Air Force.

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salafist jihadists, prisoners, jordanian government, jordanian-syrian relations

Nov 7, 2013

The family of Omar Mahmoud Othman — a Jordanian preacher of Palestinian origin known as Abu Qatada — lives in the district of Ras al-Ain in the Jordanian capital Amman, away from the head of the family. Qatada is being held in Muwaqqar prison after he was deported by the British authorities to Jordan four months ago, under an agreement guaranteeing him a fair trial on terror charges.

The family seems concerned with the fate of Othman, according to his close associates. They have expressed that they would rather stay away from the media and accuse the Jordanian authorities of violating the extradition treaty with Britain.

Recently, Abu Qatada seems more active in communicating with the various jihadist groups, and has decided to give full attention to the management of the Jordanian Salafist Jihadist movement from prison. He has issued regulatory decisions, which some of the movement’s leaders described as “binding.”

In a letter viewed by Al-Hayat, Abu Qatada confirmed that he selected the Salafist jihadist Saad Hunaiti as spokesman for the Jordanian movement. The letter was leaked from the Muwaqqar prison, south of Amman, and was written in his handwriting and bears his signature, according to Salafist leaders.

The leaked letter states, “The brothers have selected Dr. Saad Hunaiti as media spokesman for the Islamic groups operating within the oppressive Jordanian prisons ... Signed by Abu Qatada, Omar Bin Mahmoud Abu Omar.” Abu Qatada gave advice and guidance to the fighters of the Salafist jihadist movements in Syria.

Al-Hayat obtained another letter that he recently sent to the fighters in Syria, in which he addressed them by saying: “Your jihad in Syria is the property of the Islamic nation, not yours. Every day the brothers delay the solution to their differences implies additional sins, and the bloodshed today or tomorrow is a consequence of the separation.”

He added: “I warn my brothers the mujahedeen, whether they be leaders or soldiers, not to listen to fatwas issued remotely and written by inexperienced students. You need to form an elite group of highly-qualified scholars, who will be given full powers to issue decisions binding for all.”

It seems that through his letter, Abu Qatada sought to overcome differences and bridge the chasm between Salafist groups, especially the differences that were made public between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Islamist fighters affiliated with the Salafist jihadist movement in Jordan are sneaking into the city of Daraa, Syria's largest southern city, avoiding the ambushes set up by the Jordanian military along the border. According to Mohammad Shalabi AKA Abu Sayyaf, a Salafist leader in southern Jordan, nearly a thousand fighters have snuck into Daraa in the recent period.

Hasan Abu Hanieh, an expert on Islamic groups and a close associate to Abu Qatada for years, told Al-Hayat that the presence of the latter in a Jordanian prison “put him in direct contact with the Jordanian jihadist movement and other Salafist groups operating on Syrian territory.”

Hanieh, who was previously in the ranks of the jihadist movement before devoting himself to research and writing, added that Abu Qatada “has begun to influence the behavior of the detained members of the movement, and to convince them that greeting the security forces and the police is admissible.” He added that Abu Qatada is a strong reference that cannot be ignored.

Abu Qatada’s letter assigning Hunaiti as spokesman for the Salafist movement, according to Hanieh, “explains his new role in the group and that he has begun to pull the rug from under the traditional movement’s leaders’ feet.”

Yet Hanieh said Othman is “still practicing a sort of self-control toward the [fact] that the Jordanian authorities delayed his trial and insist on referring him to the military courts.” He said, “If Abu Qatada’s detention period is extended and marred by violations, the latter may adopt intransigent stances. Then, the authorities will find themselves in the face of the anger of the al-Qaeda branches around the world, which owe absolute allegiance to Othman and may target the kingdom.”

Abu Qatada’s lawyer, Taysir Dyab, told Al-Hayat that the Jordanian authorities have refused for a long time to release his client on bail, and that his ongoing detention “is contrary to the agreement between Amman and London, [as] it stipulates his trial upon his arrival [to Jordan] and that he will granted a civil, not military trial.”

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