REUTERS - A gunman shot dead Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar on Sunday outside the court where he was to stand trial on charges of contempt of religion after sharing on social media a caricature seen as insulting Islam, state news agency Petra said.
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Hattar, a Christian and an anti-Islamist activist, was a prominent writer in Jordan. He was well-known for his opposition to the government – and its peace agreement with Israel – and to political and radical Islamist organizations. He was arrested a number of times in the 1990s, and survived an assassination attempt in 1998.
The Jordanian government banned Hattar from writing for the Jordanian press, and in recent years he wrote for the Lebanese, Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper. He was considered a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and was invited to Damascus meeting with the president three years ago.
Hattar's assassination could be linked to recent articles in which he mocked Islamic State. His death has caused a social media storm, and raised concern that those who oppose the same organizations as Hattar may be harmed as well.
Haatar was arrested last month after he shared a caricature that depicted a bearded man in heaven smoking in bed with women and asking God to bring him wine and cashews.
Many conservative Muslim Jordanians considered Hattar's move offensive and against their religion. The authorities said he violated the law by sharing the caricature.
The state news agency quoted a security source as saying Hattar was killed by a man who fired three shots at him on the steps of the palace of justice in the Jordanian capital.
"The assailant was arrested and investigations are ongoing," Petra quoted the security source as saying.
Two witnesses said the gunman, bearded and in his '50s, was wearing a traditional Arab dishashada, worn by ultra conservative Sunni Salafis who adhere to a puritanical version of Islam and shun Western lifestyles.
Hattar had apologized and said he did not mean to insult God but had shared the cartoon to mock fundamentalist Sunni radicals and what he said was their vision of God and heaven. He had accused his Islamist opponents of using the cartoon to settle scores with him.