AMMAN – Jordanian security officials have killed four men in a clash described as the most serious since the authorities cracked down this month on a militant group accused of planning ‘terrorist attacks’ against the United States embassy and government.
All four men were believed to have been involved in a chemical bomb plot which the authorities earlier this week said could have killed at least 20,000 people and wrecked buildings within a 1km radius.
The plot was foiled following the arrests of several suspects in two raids in late March and early this month.
The four men were killed on Tuesday after police stormed their hideout in a basement in a building in a poor neighbourhood of the capital.
Three other men were detained, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.
With gas masks on, special forces troops prepare to storm the single-storey building. — AP
It was not immediately clear what relationship the detained men had with the slain terror suspects. Three of the dead were foreigners, government spokesman Asma Khader said without giving their nationalities.
Jordan, which has close ties to the US and a peace treaty with Israel, has been targeted by Al-Qaeda and other groups.
The nearly four-hour operation began on Tuesday afternoon when hundreds of policemen surrounded a 2km area around the one-storey building in the eastern Hashemi district of Amman, a predominantly Palestinian area.
Police called for the suspects to surrender, but they responded with gunfire, the statement said.
About 2 1/2 hours into the operation, police fired several volleys of tear gas at the hideout.
Shortly afterwards, special forces men stormed the house.
Several policemen were wounded in the operation, which followed a tip-off from residents that ‘terrorists’ were in the area, the government spokesman said.
Tuesday’s operation was the latest in a flurry of counter-terrorism operations undertaken by the Jordanian security forces in recent weeks which US Secretary of State Colin Powell has hailed as ‘indicative of the support that Jordan has provided to the US in the war on terror’.
‘There was another good action on the part of the Jordanian authorities this morning to intercept and bring to summary justice some of those who are trying to upset peace within the kingdom,’ Mr Powell noted after talks in Washington with Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher later on Tuesday.
Last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah said the security services had dismantled a ‘terror network’, thwarting plans by the group to commit ‘a crime never before seen in the kingdom’ which would have killed thousands.
The king, in a letter to the head of Jordan’s intelligence services, General Saad Khair, which was made public on April 13, said all the members of the group had been arrested.
He later told a US newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, that Jordanian police had seized five trucks loaded with 17.5 tonnes of high explosives.
‘It was a major, major operation,’ he said in the interview last Saturday. ‘It would have decapitated the government.’
He added that the explosives were apparently intended for attacks on the Prime Minister’s office and the Intelligence Ministry.
An official involved in the inquiry said the network was linked to Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, a fugitive militant sentenced to death here earlier this month for the October 2002 killing of a US diplomat.
Zarqawi is now believed to be in hiding in Iraq where US officials say he is in charge of Al-Qaeda operations.
US officials have offered a US$10 million (about S$17,000) reward for his capture. — AP, AFP