Jordan arrests Islamists after bloody clashes

JORDANIAN security forces have arrested 70 Islamists after violent protests in which nearly 100 people were injured, most of them policemen.

The suspects, members of the ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Salafist movement, were detained during raids on Friday in the town of Zarqa and nearby Rassifeh, hours after Islamist protesters attacked police, the official said.

Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit accused the Islamists of belonging to an armed organisation, and said his government would take a tough line against rioters.

Initially 120 people were detained but 50 were later released. Seventy were quizzed about their involvement in the violence in Zarqa, a northern industrial town, said the official, who declined to be named.

Those found guilty would be prosecuted, he said.

Meanwhile, a member of the Salafist movement told AFP that 22 prominent figures of the Islamist group including its chief in Jordan, Abdul Shahatah al-Tahawi, were among those detained.

More than 90 people, most of them policemen, were hurt Friday when Islamist Salafist demonstrators armed with swords, daggers and clubs attacked police in Zarqa during protests.

“Fifty-one policemen, including senior officers, were stabbed with knives, beaten with bats or hit with sharp tools,” Lieutenant General Hussein Majali said after Friday’s violence.

He said 32 other policemen were treated for tear gas inhalation while eight civilians were also hurt “when police fired tear gas and tried to stop Islamist Salafist demonstrators from attacking shoppers in Zarqa.”

“It was clear that the demonstrators had plans to clash with police. They carried swords and daggers and were provocative, seeking to drag police into a bloody confrontation,” he said.

Yesterday, the premier visited members of the security forces wounded in the Zarqa clashes, state news agency Petra reported.

It said Mr Bakhit laid the blame on a “band of obscurantists belonging to an armed and trained organisation that seeks to torpedo the democratic process.”

He warned that his government would be “firm and unhesitating in attacking the very roots of this armed group that sows sedition, in order to protect the security of the country.”

Mr Bakhit called on the security forces to “pursue all those terrorised the people and attacked police in Zarqa, and bring them to justice.”

Unlike other protests calling for reform that have rocked Jordan in recent weeks, the Salafist demonstrators have been demanding the release of 90 Islamist prisoners.

Among those they want freed is Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, the one-time mentor of slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who hailed from Zarqa.

The group has been protesting for several weeks and staged demonstrations in Amman.

The Salafists espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam that seeks a return to practices that were common in the early days of the faith.

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