January 8, 2018 / 12:06 PM / 5 months ago

Jordan says arrests 17 in foiled Islamic State attack plot: state media

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan said on Monday it had foiled an Islamic State plot that included plans for a series of attacks last November on security installations, shopping malls and moderate religious figures, state media reported.

State news agency Petra said the country’s intelligence department had arrested 17 members of a cell and confiscated weapons and explosives that the militant group had planned to use in several operations.

“The members of the cell had planned to execute a number of terrorist attacks simultaneously to destabilise national security and sow chaos and terror among civilians,” the statement said.

A security source said that members of the cell had been under surveillance from the start when they began to survey high profile civilian and military potential targets.

Security forces have been extra vigilant in recent months with warnings that sympathisers of Islamic State could launch revenge attacks after the militants were driven out of most of the territory they once controlled in Syria and Iraq.

The detainees, who were all from the working class city of Zarqa east of the capital, were being interrogated before being put on trial in a military court, the authorities said without giving a date.

The impoverished city of Zarqa, a traditional hotbed of fundamentalist jihadists, has seen dozens of youths influenced by hardline Islamist ideology joining radical groups in Iraq and Syria in recent years, according to security sources.

The statement said the cell had planned to wage a series of bank robberies and car thefts to get financing, and manufactured homemade explosives from material bought from local markets.

Militants from al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups have long targeted the U.S.-allied kingdom and dozens of militants are currently serving long prison terms.

King Abdullah, a Middle East ally of Western powers against Islamist militancy who has also safeguarded Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, has been among the most vocal leaders in the region in warning of threats posed by radical groups.

Jordan plays a prominent role in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, providing military, logistical and intelligence support, according to Western diplomats and regional intelligence sources.

Several incidents over the past few years have jolted the Arab kingdom, which has been comparatively unscathed by the uprisings, civil wars and Islamist militancy that have swept the Middle East since 2011.

In the last major incident, Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for a shootout just over a year ago at a Crusader castle in the southern city of Karak in which 10 people including a Canadian tourist were killed.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Sandra Maler

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