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Jordan Continues ‘Radical’ Crackdown

November 13, 2002

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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Residents hid from gunfire as armored vehicles prowled the streets and police went house to house Tuesday searching for Muslim radicals suspected of holding a cache of weapons in the southern city of Maan.

Two police officers and three gunmen have been killed and dozens of people arrested in three days of raids _ part of what one security official called a campaign to rein in armed groups as tensions rise over the possibility of war in Iraq.

Five alleged gang leaders believed to be hiding in the city’s al-Tour district remained at large, a senior security official said on condition of anonymity. The gang was suspected of smuggling a large cache of arms into the city, he said.

State-run Jordan television aired video Tuesday night of weapons it said were seized in three days of raids, including rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Qudah, head of police in Maan, told Jordan TV that shots were still being fired sporadically at police by gang members hiding among civilians.

The city has been sealed to outsiders, placed under curfew, and phone service cut since the raids began on Sunday.

Police were searching for followers of Mohammad Ahmad al-Chalabi, a militant Muslim preacher who angered the government by organizing a demonstration in support of Osama bin Laden last year when the U.S. began attacking Afghanistan.

Fifty people have been arrested since Sunday, including eight foreigners but al-Chalabi and four other top leaders remained at large, authorities said.

Police detained al-Chalabi two weeks ago following the assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman. He was wounded in a shootout and hospitalized, but gunmen later freed him.

Government officials said al-Chalabi is not a suspect in the Foley shooting, but that he was wanted for an attack on a police station in Maan last January.

Among the weapons seized was a rocket launcher and rocket-propelled grenades found hidden in al-Chalabi’s home, he said.

Officials said the gang is involved in arms and drug smuggling, killings, assaults, robberies, and burning cars belonging to university professors and dormitories housing female students.

They have characterized the leaders as ``outlaws″ and deny the crackdown is politically motivated.

But another security official said the raid in Maan, scene of numerous pro-Iraq riots in recent years, was part of a campaign to ``put things in order before the possible war on Iraq.″

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