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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Al-Qaeda 'opens new front in Jordan'
New evidence of Arabs fleeing the US-led bombing in Afghanistan to open a new front in the Arab world has emerged in Jordan.
The authorities in Amman say they have arrested 10 Jordanians accused of planning to carry out attacks on American and Israeli targets in the kingdom.
They say they were led by Wail al-Shalabi, a Palestinian-Jordanian fighter who was arrested in April after returning from Afghanistan.
The suspects' lawyer, Mohammed Duwaik, says Mr Wail has confessed to fighting in the Afghan Jihad.
The arrests come in the wake of a wave of detentions in Yemen, Tunisia and Morocco.
Diplomatic sources say a pattern is emerging of Arab fighters in Afghanistan escaping the American attack on al-Qaeda's hideouts to take their struggle back to the Arab world.
Mr Duwaik, a popular lawyer in Amman, makes no charge for defending suspected Islamist militants.
"It's a duty to defend these boys," he says. "Why doesn't America understand that its policies are just breeding more and more violence?"
Mr Duwaik says a second six-man cell planned to hit unnamed Israeli targets across the Jordanian border in the West Bank.
He says all the accused are now being held in al-Juwaydah prison, on the southern outskirts of Amman.
The al-Qanat website, published in Egypt, quoted Jordanian officials as saying that the kingdom's State Security Court was due to try 20 Palestinians on charges of weapons smuggling and carrying out operations across Jordan's borders with Israel.
On Thursday, Israel said it had detained a truck driver from the West Bank town of Nablus, whom it accused of smuggling dozens of weapons from Jordan to Israel under boxes of vegetables.
Jordanian officials have shunned public announcements, apparently for fear of exacerbating emotions in a country where half the population is Palestinian.
Many Palestinians feel disgruntled at what they see as the kingdom's half-hearted response to the intifada - or Palestinian uprising against the Israelis.
On Wednesday, Jordan sent a convoy of trucks across the Jordan River packed with relief aid for Palestinians under Israeli curfew in the West Bank.
There are also concerns at the fallout of security fears on the tourism industry already crippled by 20 months of intifada.
But commentators say some officials are pressing for Jordan to follow the example of Morocco - which recently said it had caught members of al-Qaeda - to help Jordan maintain its status as one of Washington's closest allies in the Arab world.
"Many of the arrests seem to be just gifts to the Americans," says Bassem Sakijha, a leading Jordanian columnist.
The mother of one of the suspects, Mohammed al-Mullah, also casts doubt on the strength of the Jordanian evidence.
At her home in the dusty village of Rajum al-Shami, 30km east of Amman, Naamah Salam told the BBC her son was the victim of a vengeful smear campaign by his ex-wife.
She said he had returned from his studies at the Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia, and divorced his 18-year-old wife the week before his arrest.
Mrs Salam said her son had been held by the security forces for 34 days without access to his family or a lawyer and beaten.
She said he was now receiving attention from the prison doctor for an infected wound.
"I just beg God and King Abdullah to give me back my son," says Mrs Salam, who has donned a black veil covering her body and face ever since she became a widow.
The authorities were not immediately available for comment on her accusations.
News of the militant plot against American interests trickled out as the US Congress considers boosting aid to Jordan to $500m for the year 2003.
Jordan is the only Arab state with a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which earlier this year staged a military exercise in the eastern Jordanian desert.
The rise in militancy still alarms the king's men.
Friday prayers are accompanied with celebrations for the martyrs of the previous week's suicide bombings on Israelis, and US policy on Israel and Iraq fuels the anti-American mood.
Armoured vehicles are dug in outside the US embassy in the normally relaxed capital, and American Peace Corps volunteers stationed in the country's hinterland have been cautioned against visiting Amman.
Jordan remains one of the rare Arab states where Islamist parties are not banned, but in the wake of 11 September, the authorities have introduced a wave of temporary authoritarian laws and made a spate of arrests.
Some analysts believe the crackdown could push more Jordanians into the hands of the militant wing.
In February this year, suspected militants blew up the car of a key terrorist investigator, Lt Colonel Ali Burjak, in central Amman, killing two foreigners.
Burjak had been investigating a plot the authorities said was funded and approved by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Reports said the suspects were accused of conspiring to assassinate King Abdullah while he was on his summer holiday, and of planning to attack the tourist facilities at the site of Jesus' baptism in the reeds of Wadi Kharrar near the Jordan river.
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