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Jailed Al Qaeda leader set for release amid ‘death threats’

By Taylor Luck - Jun 11,2014 - Last updated at Jun 11,2014

AMMAN — Authorities are set to release on Monday one of Al Qaeda’s most prominent leaders amid a reported series of death threats to the cleric from a rival jihadist group.

According to defence attorney Majed Al Leftawi, authorities are set to release after midnight Sunday Taher Al Barqawi, or Abu Mohammed Al Maqdisi, after the Jordan-born Al Qaeda cleric and spiritual leader completes a five-year prison sentence for terrorism charges.

According to Leftawi, authorities will be unable to hold Maqdisi, who was once estimated to be the third most prominent figure in Al Qaeda and the mentor of slain Al Qaeda chieftain in Iraq Abu Musab Al Zarqawi –– beyond midnight Sunday as there are no further pending cases against him.

“There are no new cases or pending cases against Abu Mohammed Al Maqdisi, so legally and constitutionally, authorities cannot delay his release,” Leftawi told The Jordan Times.

Judicial sources at the country’s State Security Court –– which sentenced Maqdisi to prison in 2009 for recruiting and providing funds for jihadist fighters and the Taliban in Afghanistan –– confirmed that the cleric is set for a pending release.

Maqdisi’s release comes as the cleric has reportedly received “dozens” of death threats from supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in response to recent statements made by the cleric critical of the former Al Qaeda affiliate.

According to Jordanian Salafist sources, Maqdisi’s family has received a series of calls and messages threatening the life of the cleric, accusing him of being “an agent of the Zionist and Western crusader agenda to destroy the Islamic state project and prevent the rise of the caliphate”. 

The threats, which reportedly originate from Jordanian jihadists who support ISIL in its growing rift with Al Qaeda, have even reached Maqdisi in prison, sources claim. 

In response to the threats, which hard-line Islamists claim as an attempt to export Syrian jihadists’ civil war to Jordan, members of the Jordanian Salafist movement’s youth wing have formed a “popular committee” dedicated to the protection of Maqdisi and other senior clerics from potential attacks.

“There is a real danger that either the Islamic State, or agents or intelligence services acting in the Islamic State’s name will attempt to attack our leaders and light the spark of a civil war,” said a leading member of the Salafist movement, who declined to be named, citing security concerns.

“We have young men ready and able to provide 24-hour protection and surveillance.”

In May, a group of unidentified men attacked and injured leading Salafist and cleric Ayman Balawi, a known supporter of Al Nusra and a student of Maqdisi, outside of an Amman mosque, chanting pro-ISIL slogans, according to Islamist sources and witnesses.

The threats come in the wake of statements made by Maqdisi last week describing the ISIL’s leadership as “liars” and encouraging Islamist fighters to break ranks with the renegade jihadist group.

“We waited and were patient for a long period in the hopes that the so-called ISIL would return to righteousness and listen to their sheikhs — unfortunately they twisted and turned, and lied a lot — and have shown their true nature,” Maqdisi said of ISIL from prison in a statement published by Al Jazeera which he and several Salafists confirmed as authentic and not made under duress. 

Earlier in May, Maqdissi slammed ISIL, better known for its Arabic acronym, Daesh, for “deviating” from the tenets of jihad, urging all ISIL fighters to defect and join the ranks of Jabhat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.

“We declare that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has deviated from righteousness, mislead the mujahedeen and has been implicated in shedding the blood of the infallible true believers… we call on members of the Islamic State to defect and ally themselves with Jabhat Al Nusra and its leadership,” Maqdisi said in the wake of the failure of several initiatives to bring an end to infighting between the ISIL and rival Islamist groups. 

Maqdisi’s release comes amid a growing crackdown by authorities on suspected supporters of Syrian jihadist groups, which have reportedly gained ground and control up to 80 per cent of southern Syria and the bulk of the countries’ 370-kilometre shared border.  

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