AMMAN // Jordanian security forces killed seven extremist militants wearing explosive belts in a raid on an ISIL linked-cell near the Syrian border.
The predawn operation on Wednesday targeted a hideout in the city of Irbid where the militants had been planning to carry out terror attacks against civilian and military targets in the country, security officials said.
A Jordanian officer was killed in the fighting and five security personnel and two civilians were injured during the clashes.
Thirteen other militants were arrested in the raid, which the Jordanian Intelligence Department described as one of the largest manhunts since the star of the Syrian conflict.
The officials said the militants sought to destabilise the country’s security but did not specify which targets the militants planned to attack.
The raid came after a surveillance operation which enabled the security forces to identify the militants’ hideouts.
The seven militants who were killed were hiding in a residential building and were involved in a firefight with the military, including special forces. While Jordan has been deeply affected by the conflict in Syria, it is rare for there to be a confrontation between the security forces and militants.
The heavily-armed militants refused to hand themselves in and opened fired on the security forces with automatic weapons. Local media reports said security forces cordoned the area, cut off power to some part of the city and used smoke bombs and machine guns during the raids.
The security forces seized machine guns, ammunition and explosives.
Abdullah Ensour, Jordan’s prime minister, described the raid as a successful operation.
The raid “achieved its goals successfully,” he told parliament. “It has killed seven outlaws ... with links to terrorist organisations which sought to attack the country.”
Jordan is a key partner in the US-led anti-ISIL coalition, carrying out air strikes against the extremists in Syria.
While Jordan has taken several measures to combat ISIL, including beefing up security at its borders with both Iraq and Syria and arresting militants and extremist sympathisers, the latest crackdown reflects a change in how the security forces are dealing with hardliners, said Hasan Abu Hanieh, an expert in Islamist groups.
“Jordan’s approach in dealing with jihadists is changing from arrests and referral to courts to direct confrontations, which is not common. At the same time, it seems that there has been a decision within the Salafi Jihadist movement not to surrender to authorities.”
Since the Syrian war broke out five years ago, Irbid which is close to the border with Syria has turned in to a hotbed for militant.
Experts say 2,000 Jordanians are fighting alongside extremists in Syria and Iraq, the majority with ISIL, making Jordanians one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters after Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. While Jordan has managed so far to avoid the violence spilling across the border, the threats continue.
“These groups are focusing attention on Jordan, planning to carry out assassinations and attacks to destabilise the country contrary to speculations that they were planning to infiltrate Syria,” said Awni Adwan, a Jordanian senator and a former army general. “We are expecting more attempts.”