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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 15:59 GMT
Jordan steps up drive against militants
Jordanian security forces seal off the town of Maan
Jordanian forces began their operation on Sunday

The security forces in Jordan have started collecting weapons in the southern town of Maan, in the latest stage of a crackdown on armed Islamists which began on Sunday.

According to officials, five people have been killed during the crackdown.

The authorities have declared the town a weapons-free zone, as they continue their hunt for members of an armed group they hold responsible for arms smuggling, kidnappings and killings.

Some of weapons seized
State run TV showed pictures of the weapons haul

The residents of Maan have been told to hand in their weapons, including hunting rifles - and in future anyone who wants to keep or use a firearm will need the written permission of the minister of the interior.

Since Sunday, the security forces have arrested dozens of armed Islamists and say they have found large quantities of guns and grenades.

But some of the key figures in the group they are after - including its leader, known as Abu Sayyaf - are still on the run.

Anti-US sentiment

Maan has a history of anti-government feeling.

Being close to Saudi Arabia, it is also a centre of the conservative, anti-Western form of Islam associated with Osama Bin Laden.

However, the authorities are choosing to characterise the people they are targeting as criminals using religion as a cover.

Jordanian security forces celebrate arrests
Jordan wants to send a signal to militants

The Information Minister, Mohammed Adwan, says that while some members of the group may be terrorists - as he puts it - basically they are outlaws.

It also suits the authorities to play up any suggestion of foreign involvement.

They say there are eight non-Jordanians among the 50 people they have arrested so far. This seems to include Iraqis and Egyptians.

But Maan has long been a centre of home-grown dissent.

With anti-American feeling already widespread in Jordan, the authorities are desperately worried the country could be destabilised if there is a war in neighbouring Iraq.

So their heavy-handed intervention in Maan is designed to send the strongest possible signal that dissent and lawlessness will not be tolerated.

See also:

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