Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar shot dead in front of court before trial over cartoon

A relative of Nahed Hattar holds his picture during a sit-in in Al-Fuheis near Amman, Jordan on Sunday (Sept 25). PHOTO: REUTERS
Jordanian police stand guard in front of a hospital where the body of Nahed Hattar was held, in Amman, Jordan, on Sept 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

AMMAN (AFP) - A prominent Jordanian writer was shot dead Sunday on the steps of a court where he was facing charges for sharing an anti-Islam cartoon online, in an attack condemned as "heinous".

Nahed Hattar was struck by three bullets before the alleged assassin was arrested at the scene of the shooting in Amman's central Abdali district, said the official Petra news agency.

The assailant - bearded and dressed in a grey dishdasha worn by conservative Muslim men - shot Hattar, a 56-year-old Christian, as he made his way up the stairs of the court, a security source said.

Struck in the head, he was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital, said the source.

The gunman, a 49-year-old Amman resident, gave himself up to police at the court, the source added.

A journalist saw blood lying on the steps of the courthouse, where police had cordoned off the area of the shooting.

Hattar was arrested on August 13 and charged with inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islam before being released on bail in early September.

The cartoon Hattar posted on his Facebook page featured an illustration of God under the title "God of Daesh", using an Arabic acronym for the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorist group.

It depicts a bearded man in bed smoking with two women lying to either side, addressing God as a servant.

He asks for a glass of wine, cashew nuts and orders someone to clean the floor, before telling God to knock before entering next time.

Any depiction of God is prohibited in Islam.

Hattar removed the cartoon from his Facebook page after it triggered outrage on social media.

At the time, he explained on Facebook that the cartoon made fun of "terrorists and how they imagine God and heaven, and does not insult God in any way".

The attorney general had imposed a blackout media coverage of the case against Hattar, also known as a leftist and supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Hani al-Malki ordered his interior minister, Salam Hammad, to summon the writer and to initiate legal proceedings against him after he shared the cartoon on the internet.

The Jordanian government denounced his killing as a "heinous crime".

"The law will be firmly applied to the person who committed the crime and the government will strike with an iron fist anyone who dares to take advantage of this to spread hate speech," said spokesman Mohamad Momani.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood and Dar al-Iftaa, the highest religious authority, also condemned the attack.

Jordan is a leading member of the US-led coalition fighting IS in neighbouring Iraq and Syria, and was the target of a June 21 suicide bombing that killed seven border guards.

The kingdom has carried out air strikes targeting IS jihadists and hosts coalition troops on its territory.

In recent years, extremists have had other publications in their sights for publishing caricatures seen as insulting to Islam, including in Europe.

In January 2015, extremists killed 12 people, including eight staff, in an attack on the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The French satirical weekly had drawn the fury of Muslims around the world since publishing drawings of Islam's Prophet Mohammed in 2006.

Authorities in Denmark have thwarted attacks linked to the Mohammed cartoons published in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005.

The publication sparked deadly protests in some Muslim countries.

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