Arms cache found after deadly siege in Jordan

Karak castle, which dates back 900 years and was used by the Crusaders, was the scene of Sunday's siege. The castle overlooks a city of 60,000 people.
Karak castle, which dates back 900 years and was used by the Crusaders, was the scene of Sunday's siege. The castle overlooks a city of 60,000 people.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Shootout at historic tourist attraction leaves 10 dead; gunmen believed to be linked to ISIS

AMMAN • Jordanian police said they found suicide belts and other explosives in the hideout of suspected ISIS militants behind an attack that killed 10 people, including a Canadian tourist.

Four gunmen were shot dead by police during a five-hour siege centred on a 900-year-old castle.

Another 34 people were wounded in Sunday's shooting spree. They included two Malaysians from a party of 20 who were visiting the ancient castle, said the New Straits Times.

The attack took place in the small Jordanian city of Karak, a tourist destination known for one of the region's biggest Crusader castles, around 120km south of the capital Amman.

"The four dead militants are Jordanian members of a terrorist cell suspected of belonging to ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)," a security source said.

It was unclear whether any militants were still at large. Prime Minister Hani al-Malki, who was addressing Parliament at the time of the shootings, had spoken of as many as 10 gunmen.

Jordan is a leading member of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in neighbouring Iraq and Syria and also hosts coalition troops.

Karak is the hometown of Jordanian fighter pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, who was captured by ISIS when his plane went down in Syria in December 2014. He was later burned alive in a cage.

The violence began when a police patrol was sent to check on reports of a house on fire in Karak.

When security officers arrived, they came under a barrage of gunfire, injuring two officers. The gunmen then fled, said officials, and attacked a police station next.

Later police were told that the gunmen were hiding inside the castle, which is on a hilltop overlooking the city of 60,000 people. The gunmen fired at police from a castle tower, officials said, launching the siege.

Police said they rescued 10 tourists trapped inside the historic site when the gunmen went inside.

Mosques' loudspeakers across the city called on residents to flee, with eyewitnesses reporting chaos as thousands fled businesses and homes for the surrounding countryside. Residents' videos showed tribal leaders and young local residents with rifles helping in the hunt for the gunmen.

Several Canadian news outlets identified the tourist killed as Ms Linda Vatcher, a retired teacher from Newfoundland. She had been visiting her son David, who works in the region. He is among the injured, news reports said.

Jordan has long been hailed as an oasis of stability and security in the violence-plagued Middle East, with wars and terrorist havens near its borders with Syria to the north and Iraq to the east. But the image of stability is being eroded.

Sunday's attack marked the fourth deadly targeting of Jordanian security and army personnel this year.

In March, a cell of Islamist militants linked with ISIS engaged in a shootout with police in the northern city of Irbid, leaving one police officer and seven gunmen dead.

A gunman killed five General Intelligence Department officers in Baqaa refugee camp, north of the capital, in June.

Later that month, ISIS militants executed a truck-bombing, killing seven Jordanian soldiers stationed near a makeshift refugee camp along the Jordan-Syria border.

In November, a Jordanian officer opened fire and killed three US military trainers at an air base near Jafr used for training Syrian rebels - although the motives behind the shooting are still unclear.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Arms cache found after deadly siege in Jordan'. Print Edition | Subscribe