Jordanian writer shot dead as he arrives at court to face charge of offending Islam

Nahed Hattar, an outspoken leftist and secular writer, was arrested on August 13 after posting a cartoon mocking extremists on his Facebook account.
A man holds up a photo of Nahed Hattar, who was shot dead earlier in the day, in his family's hometown of Fuheis on September 25 2016. Hattar. Jamal Nasrallah/EPA
A man holds up a photo of Nahed Hattar, who was shot dead earlier in the day, in his family's hometown of Fuheis on September 25 2016. Hattar. Jamal Nasrallah/EPA

AMMAN // A Jordanian writer was shot dead on Sunday as he arrived at court to face charges for allegedly offending Islam.

Nahed Hattar, an outspoken leftist and secular writer from a Christian family, sparked anger last month after sharing a cartoon on Facebook deemed offensive to Islam.

He was shot three times at close range in front of the Court of Justice by Riad Ismaeel Abdullah, 49, a known extremist from eastern Amman, the Jordan Times reported.

Witnesses said the shooter was wearing a long grey robe and long beard characteristic of hardline Salafis.

Police quickly caught the attacker and seized his weapon, according to government news agency Petra. Police also launched a murder investigation into what government spokesman Mohammad Momani described as a “horrendous crime”.

“We assert our confidence in the judicial system and the security services,” Mr Momani said. “The perpetrator will face justice ... the government will respond with an iron first against anyone who uses this incident to spread hate speech in the country.”

The shooting shocked Jordan, a kingdom proud of its history of religious tolerance, but struggling to sidestep the violence that has engulfed the region.

Hattar, known for his critical views against Jordanians of Palestinian origin and a staunch supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, was rushed to a nearby hospital but soon pronounced dead.

He was arrested last month and charged with offending Islam after he shared a cartoon depicting God and heaven that sparked anger in the kingdom. He also faced charges of inciting sectarian strife and racism and insulting religion. He was released on bail earlier this month.

Hattar’s brother told The National on Sunday that he was inside the court when he heard the gunshots.

“I rushed outside and saw my brother killed. I rushed and snatched the assailant from his beard. He was wearing a robe. The police pushed me away,” said Majed Hattar, 51, the writer’s younger brother.

He said his brother had received over a hundred death threats on social media since he shared the cartoon. “We had informed the office of the governor in Amman and sent copies of the threats but no one offered protection.”

Hattar’s family and friends gathered at the family Diwan, or meeting hall, on Sunday afternoon in Fuheis, a predominantly Christian town near Amman.

His pictures were hung on a pin board with writing describing him as a martyr.

There is rarely any animosity between Jordan’s Christian and Muslim communities, but Hattar’s killing sparked concerns that the murder would be exploited to stir hate speech in the country.

No group admitted to playing a part in Hattar’s murder, but in recent months ISIL has increased its rhetoric against Christians in the kingdom.

“This crime is against society,” Nabil Al Sharif, a former media minister, wrote on Facebook. “We have to make up our minds and decide whether we are a country of institutions or a place where the law of the jungle is supreme and anybody is entitled to take the law into their own hands.”

The Ifta department, the government body in charge of issuing Fatwas, also condemned the killing. It stressed that Islam forbids the attack on a human soul as it is a “religion of mercy, justice and tolerance”.

The department called on “all members of Jordan’s society from different religions and sects to stand together as one behind the leadership of the Hashemites against terrorism and the instigators of division”.

Hattar’s death sparked mixed reaction on social media. Jordanians created the hashtag “no to discord no sectarianism, we are all Jordan”.

Other users slammed Hattar for his actions and the offence it had caused.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: September 25, 2016 04:00 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read