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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 19:57 GMT
Jordan hunts down militants
Jordanian security forces have been involved in clashes in the southern city of Maan after being sent in to round up a number of wanted men, including an Islamist leader.

A government minister told the French news agency AFP that three people had been killed, one of them a policeman.


(The suspects) have been terrorising the population, carrying weapons and bombs in public and setting homes and cars on fire

Information Minister Mohammed Adwan

The minister, Mohammed Adwan, said police had arrested 20 people, including Arabs from other countries and other foreigners.

An overnight curfew is being imposed.

The fugitives include a prominent Islamist leader, Mohammad Shalabi - also known as Abu Sayyaf - who escaped an attempt to arrest him last month.

The incident came shortly after the killing of a US diplomat in Amman, raising speculation that he might be a suspect.

However, unidentified Jordanian officials told the French news agency AFP that Sunday's manhunt had nothing to do with the killing.

'Show of force'

The situation in Maan has been tense for the last 10 days, since Mr Shalabi was wounded in a shootout with police and fled to the safety of his supporters.

The show of force is said to follow a meeting between the tribes of the wanted men, at which they decided not to hand over the fugitives.

King Abdullah
January's riots in Maan were the worst since King Abdullah came to the throne
The authorities cut fixed telephone lines in the city on Sunday and closed government offices and schools, witnesses and officials told Reuters news agency.

Residents reported hearing gun battles around the city.

Security forces moved in to encircle Maan, regarded as a stronghold of Islamic radicals, at the weekend.

The suspects had been "terrorising the population, carrying weapons and bombs in the public streets and setting on fire the homes and cars of women students and of university staff", acting information minister Mohammed Adwan was quoted as saying.

He added that the campaign by the security forces would continue "until all the members of the band are arrested and brought to court, in order to impose the sovereignty of the state and the law".

However the action has been criticised by the Islamist opposition in parliament who called for an immediate end to the "siege".

Mr Shalabi and others have been on the authorities' wanted list since riots in Maan at the beginning of the year, which followed the controversial killing of a 17-year-old student during his arrest by police.

One policeman was killed in the disturbances and 11 were wounded, as hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the impoverished town in the worst public disorder in the country for several years.

Crackdown

Jordan is believed to have questioned nearly 100 people so far in the hunt for the gunman who shot dead senior US diplomat Laurence Foley outside his Amman home.

It was the first murder of a Western diplomat in Jordan and came amid rising anti-American sentiment in the region, fuelled by perceived US bias towards Israel and the threat of a US-led war against Iraq.

American officials said there was no evidence linking the killing to the al-Qaeda network, blamed for the 11 September attacks on the US.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"Maan is now under curfew"
See also:

30 Oct 02 | Middle East
29 Oct 02 | Middle East
28 Oct 02 | Middle East
31 Jan 02 | Middle East
23 Jan 02 | Middle East
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