At least four people were killed and scores injured in clashes in the southern Jordanian city of Maan during a major government sweep to arrest Islamists, witnesses and officials said.
Witnesses said heavy gunfire broke out at dawn between hundreds of masked, armed youths and police after security forces stormed the city, allegedly to search for militants linked to the killing of a U.S. diplomat last month. The state-run Petra news agency quoted an official source as saying four people had died - three gunmen "who had opened fire at security forces" and one police officer. It said another police officer was seriously wounded.
Witnesses said scores of people were wounded by gunfire and rushed to the hospital.
Speaking on state television, Jordan’s Interior Minister Qaftan Majali accused "armed outlaw groups" of being behind the clashes. He added people from other Arab countries were among those arrested with ammunition and automatic weapons in their possession.
A security official told AP the raid in Maan, scene of numerous pro-Iraq riots in recent years, was part of a campaign to "put things in order before the possible war on Iraq". He added that authorities were attempting to get all armed groups under control to prevent violent protests.
Some 25 people have been arrested but the search is continuing, Jordan's Information Minister Mohammad Adwan told AFP. "The special forces of the army, backed up by security forces, are searching all suspect homes and confiscating arms," he said. "The army operation will continue for as long as it takes to arrest all the outlaws," he said.
Adwan told AP that the hunted gang was involved in arms and drug smuggling, killings, assaults and robberies as well as challenging the government and burning cars belonging to university professors and dormitories housing female students.
Authorities cut telephone lines to Maan on Sunday, and the city was under curfew, with all government offices and schools closed, witnesses and residents said, according to Reuters.
The Islamic Action Front, the country's largest opposition party, issued a statement warning the government not to risk "an escalation in the situation and widening of its repercussions" that could endanger national security at a time of looming war. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )