Sui­cide belts at Jor­dan tourist at­tack spot

Tourists were found hid­ing in­side Cru­sader cas­tle

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Jor­da­nian po­lice said yes­ter­day they found sui­cide belts and other ex­plo­sives in the hideout of sus­pected Is­lamic State group ji­hadists be­hind an at­tack that killed 10 peo­ple in­clud­ing a Cana­dian tourist. The shoot­ing spree in Karak, home to one of the re­gion’s big­gest Cru­sader cas­tles, is an­other blow to tourism in a coun­try al­ready grap­pling with the spillover of the wars in neigh­bor­ing Syria and Iraq.

An­other 34 peo­ple in­clud­ing a se­cond Cana­dian were wounded in Sun­day’s as­sault in the city around 120 kilo­me­ters south of the cap­i­tal Amman. Four gun­men were shot dead by po­lice dur­ing the course of a siege last­ing sev­eral hours. “The four dead mil­i­tants are Jor­da­nian mem­bers of a ter­ror­ist cell sus­pected of be­long­ing to IS,” a se­cu­rity source told AFP.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Salama Ham­mad told re­porters there was no in­for­ma­tion about any mil­i­tants still at large and there had been no ar­rests. He re­fused to give the na­tion­al­ity of the gun­men. 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 IS ji­hadists in Iraq and Syria. It has car­ried out air strikes tar­get­ing IS, and also hosts coali­tion troops on its ter­ri­tory. Maaz Al-Kas­sas­beh, a Jor­da­nian fighter pi­lot, was cap­tured by the ji­hadists when his plane went down in Syria in De­cem­ber 2014, and he was later burned alive in a cage. Karak is Kas­sas­beh’s home­town. In June, a sui­cide bomb­ing claimed by IS killed seven bor­der guards near the Syr­ian fron­tier.

Hit to tourism

Ac­cord­ing to sources close to Is­lamists, al­most 4,000 Jor­da­ni­ans have joined ji­hadist groups in Iraq and Syria, and an es­ti­mated 420 have been killed since 2011. King Ab­dul­lah II said in a state­ment Jor­dan would stand up “to any­one who tries to at­tack or vi­o­late the se­cu­rity and safety of its cit­i­zens”.

“Jor­dan is strong and able to stamp out ter­ror­ism and its crim­i­nal gangs,” he said. But Mo­hammed Abu Rum­man, of the Cen­tre of Strate­gic Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Jor­dan, was less op­ti­mistic. “No se­cu­rity mea­sures can take on this kind of ter­ror­ism with­out heavy losses,” he said. “A year ago we were talk­ing about a cur­rent of sym­pa­thy in Jor­dan for the ji­hadists.” But “to­day that cur­rent has turned into groups of youth who feel they’re an in­te­gral part of Daesh”, Abu Rum­man said, us­ing an Ara­bic acronym for IS. Jor­dan has strug­gled to re­vive a tourism sec­tor damp­ened by the 2011 up­ris­ings across the Arab world, as well as con­flict in Iraq and Syria. The Karak citadel, de­scribed by Jor­dan’s Tourism Board as a “maze of stone-vaulted halls and end­less pas­sage­ways”, dates back to the 12th cen­tury and has with­stood many sieges.

Sha­her Ham­dan, the head of Jor­dan’s as­so­ci­a­tion for tourist and travel agen­cies, said Sun­day’s at­tack “will cer­tainly have neg­a­tive con­se­quences” on tourism. Jor­dan’s tourism sec­tor “is al­ready af­fected by any event in the world or in the re­gion, so imag­ine a ter­ror­ist event in­side the coun­try”, he said.

Tourism ac­counts for 14 per­cent of Jor­dan’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) and is its se­cond high­est source of for­eign ex­change earn­ings af­ter re­mit­tances. Rev­enues from the sec­tor dropped from more than $4 bil­lion in Oc­to­ber 2015 to $3.1 bil­lion in the same month this year.

Tourists from Canada, Bri­tain and Malaysia were hid­ing in­side a Cru­sader cas­tle dur­ing armed clashes be­tween Jor­dan troops and gun­men at the site, Jor­dan’s in­te­rior min­is­ter said Mon­day, deny­ing that for­eign­ers had been held hostage at any point. “In­side the cas­tle, there was a group of tourists,” he said, adding that he did not be­lieve the at­tack­ers were aware of the pres­ence of the tourists dur­ing the stand­off. “There were some for­eign­ers that we can’t say were taken hostage, but they were hid­ing,” he said.

Ham­mad did ex­plain how the Cana­dian woman, later iden­ti­fied as 62-year-old re­tired ele­men­tary school teacher Linda Vatcher, was killed.

Vatcher’s adult son, Chris, was in­jured in the jaw and is be­ing treated at a hospi­tal in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal of Amman, the min­is­ter said. The min­is­ter said a Malaysian tourist was able to es­cape the cas­tle dur­ing the stand­off, while two British tourists got out af­ter the four gun­men were killed by Jor­da­nian se­cu­rity forces. — Agen­cies

AMMAN: Mem­bers of the Jor­da­nian Gen­darmerie line the road ahead of the funeral of their killed col­league Lieu­tenant Colonel Saed Al-Maay­tah. — AP

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