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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 15:59 GMT
Jordanian city under curfew
Map
Jordanian police backed by troops have put the southern city of Maan under curfew for a second day as they search for Islamic militants.

Militant leader Mohammad Shalabi, also known as Abu Sayyaf, and three of his aides are still at large after police search teams entered the city on Sunday, triggering gun battles in which at least three gunmen and a police sergeant were killed.

The army operation will continue for as long as it takes to arrest all the outlaws

Information Minister Mohammad Adwan

Militants in the city are believed to be linked to the assassination of a US diplomat, Laurence Foley, in the capital Amman in late October.

A BBC correspondent says the security forces' operations are being hampered by the complex network of tribal loyalties in the city, which is known as a centre of militancy.

Eyewitnesses say thousands of regular soldiers backed by armour converged on the city on Sunday night to back up the riot police.

So far, at least 25 people have been arrested on charges of arms- and drugs-smuggling and inciting riots. They are thought to include Iraqis and Egyptians.

'Non-political'

Around the city, shops, schools and public offices were closed on Monday and telephone lines have been blocked.

King Abdullah
King Abdullah: Threat of unrest over his support for US

Information Minister Mohammad Adwan said the operation would continue for as long as it took to "arrest all the outlaws".

He told the Associated Press news agency that the raid had "nothing to do with politics" but a security official told AP it was part of a campaign to "put things in order before the possible war on Iraq".

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the authorities were attempting to get all armed groups under control to prevent violent protests.

Hotspot

The BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says Maan has long been a trouble spot.

Islamist and anti-government sentiment is strong in the city and people retain strong tribal loyalties.

Laurence Foley (L) with US Ambassador Edward Gnehm
Mr Foley (L) was the first Western diplomat killed in Jordan

This has complicated the work of the security forces, our correspondent says, since local Bedouin tribes have refused to hand over clan members wanted by the authorities.

Our correspondent says the current unrest is an unwelcome challenge to Jordan's King Abdullah, who is struggling to keep the lid on anti-American feeling which is liable to grow if there is a war against Iraq.

The situation in Maan has been tense since Mr Shalabi was wounded in a shoot-out with police at the beginning of November.

Police officials say Mr Shalabi and two other leaders are being protected by members of their Bedouin tribes armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and other weapons.

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.

See also:

10 Nov 02 | Middle East
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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