x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Jordan detains 70 Salafists over violent demonstrations

Most of the injured were policemen during protests calling for the release of 90 Islamist prisoners.

AMMAN // Jordanian security forces have arrested 70 Islamists after violent protests in which many people were hurt, most of them policemen, a security official told AFP on Saturday.

The suspects, members of the ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Salafist movement, were rounded up during raids Friday in the town of Zarqa and nearby Rassifeh, hours after Islamist protesters attacked police, the official said.

Initially 120 people were detained but 50 of them were later let go while 70 were quizzed about their involvement in the violence in Zarqa, a northern industrial town, said the official who declined to be named.

Those found guilty would be prosecuted, he added.

A member of the Salafist movement meanwhile told AFP that 22 prominent figures of the Islamist group including its chief in Jordan, Abdul Shahatah al-Tahawi, were among those detained.

More than 90 people, most of them policemen, were hurt Friday when Islamist Salafist demonstrators armed with swords, daggers and clubs attacked police in Zarqa during protests.

"Fifty-one policemen, including senior officers, were stabbed with knives, beaten with bats or hit with sharp tools," Lieutenant General Hussein Majali told a news conference after Friday's violence.

He said 32 other policemen were treated for tear gas inhalation while eight civilians were also hurt "when police fired tear gas and tried to stop Islamist Salafist demonstrators from attacking shoppers in Zarqa."

"It was clear that the demonstrators had plans to clash with police. They carried swords and daggers and were provocative, seeking to drag police into a bloody confrontation," he said.

Unlike other protests calling for reform that have rocked Jordan in recent weeks, the Salafist demonstrators have been demanding the release of 90 Islamist prisoners.

Among those they want freed is Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, the one-time mentor of slain Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who hailed from Zarqa.

The group has been protesting for several weeks and staged demonstrations in Amman.

The Salafists espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam that seeks a return to practices that were common in the early days of the faith.