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Police hunt 'wanted people' in Jordan following protests

Almost 160 people have been arrested in Ma'an as authorities search for 19 more amid continuing violence in southern Jordan
Clashes between protesters and Jordanian police are continuing in the south of the country (AFP)

Jordanian police have arrested 158 people and are “hunting” 19 more "wanted people" in the southern city of Ma’an, after more than a week of clashes between protestors and local authorities there, according to local media.

Interior Minister Hussein Majali confirmed the arrests on Sunday but insisted no security crackdown was underway, reported the Jordan News Agency. He said life returned to normal in the town and praised the "unequalled" cooperation of Ma’anis with security forces and local authorities.

The news agency wrote that the arrests were in response to the shooting of five gendarmerie personnel in the city. 

A video posted to YouTube yesterday by a local resident reportedly shows clashes between protestors and security services, with the sounds of gunshots clearly audible in the background.

Protests erupted in Ma’an last Tuesday when a 22-year-old man was shot dead outside his house by police officers who were chasing armed gunmen that had fired at a police patrol outside the city. Tensions have been high between government forces and protestors linked with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL) group, with sporadic clashes breaking out in recent months.

Rallies have been held in the southern city where opponents of the government in Amman have raised the flag of ISIL and posted photos on social media showing solidarity with the group. ISIL fighters responded by posting photos on Twitter declaring solidarity with the protestors in Ma’an.

ISIL advocates violent struggle to establish an Islamic caliphate across several countries in the Middle East and the group has played a key role in the ongoing civil war in Syria and the upswing in violence in Iraq. 

“To our brothers in Ma’an we are supporting you in your steadfastness, those who persevere are on the right side, from the soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” said one photo purportedly showing fighters in Syria supporting the unrest in southern Jordan.

An image showing a map of Jordan with a southern province designated an autonomous ISIL region has been widely circulated on social media websites and a video posted to YouTube shows a Jordanian flag being burnt in Ma’an.

 

Syria conflict spillover 

A large number of Jordanians have gone to fight in Syria since an uprising broke out against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. Some 2,000 Jordanians are said to now be fighting in Syria although more than 300 have gone back to Jordan in the past two months, Hassan Abu Haniyeh, an Amman-based expert in Islamist movements, recently told the Washington Post.

“This is a crisis the state was not prepared for,” Haniyeh added. 

Jordanian authorities have amended an anti-terror law to combat what the government perceives as a threat from returning fighters. Legislation was passed by MPs last Tuesday, which made “joining or attempting to join armed or terrorist groups, or recruiting or attempting to recruit people to join these groups,” acts of terrorism.

Ma’an has traditionally been a centre of unrest in Jordan. The beginning of these latest clashes fell on the anniversary of 1989 protests held against the government for enacting International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms that led to significant increases in the price of fuel and food.

Major protests again took place in Ma’an during 2012 when there were nationwide demonstrations against new hikes in the price of basic goods. During those rallies protesters burnt tyres, blocked streets and threw stones at police, while security services responded by firing tear gas into the crowds.

Protesters from Ma’an travelled to the capital Amman earlier this month to demand the government deal with unemployment in southern Jordan. Crowds of people marched on government buildings chanting “employment is our legal right” and “bread, freedom, we demand social justice”, according to the Jordan Times, a local English-language newspaper. 

Jordanian police have been accused of using excessive force when dealing with protestors by human rights groups, who said officers beat and kicked 80 to 100 people attending picketing outside the parliament building in March.

“Jordan needs to start taking allegations of police violence seriously” Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“How do Jordanian officials expect this kind of police violence to stop unless officials investigate and prosecute those responsible?” he added.

At least eight people have died in clashes between protestors and security services over the past year.