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Jordan's relative stability shaken by rare 'terrorist attack'

Though no one has taken responsibility and officials have not identified any suspects, ISIS warned last month that it was planning a wave of attacks during Ramadan.

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    Jordanian security vehicles seen near the General Intelligence directorate offices near Baqaa Refugee Camp, north of Amman, Jordan, after an attack on June 6.
    Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
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Three Jordanian intelligence officers and two other security personnel were killed in an attack on a security office in a Palestinian refugee camp outside the Jordanian capital Amman, a government official said on Monday.

The incident at the Baqaa camp, the biggest of its kind in Jordan, jolted the US-backed Arab kingdom, whose relative stability has distinguished it from powerful war-ravaged neighbors, Syria to the north and Iraq to the east.

Jordanian television, quoting a government spokesman, Mohammad al-Momani, described the incident in the Baqaa camp as a terrorist attack that took place at 7 a.m.

Momani said the the intelligence department's local office in the Baqaa camp, which houses over 70,000 refugees, was targeted and that alongside the three officers, a guard and a telephone exchange operator at the office were killed.

Momani had no description of the assailants, adding only: "Security forces are chasing these culprits and investigating the circumstances of the terrorist attack."

One official source in touch with a security contact told Reuters an attacker drove up to the building and fired with a machine gun at the officers before his car sped away.

A large proportion of Jordan's more than 7 million people are descended from Palestinian refugees who fled in the aftermath of the creation of Israel in 1948.

MILITANT ISLAM IN CAMPS

Western donors and political analysts warn of growing Islamist radicalization in Jordan's impoverished refugee camps and in districts within major cities laid low by poverty and a lack of economic opportunities.

Dozens have left the sprawling Baqaa camp to join Islamist militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Earlier this year, several Islamic State sympathizers were killed in a shootout with raiding security forces in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid.

Security authorities later said they had carried out a pre-emptive strike on militants linked to Syria who were planning suicide attacks on shopping malls and government buildings.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that ISIS warned of a wave of attacks during Ramadan, signaling a strategic shift toward insurgency as its self-declared caliphate loses territory.

Jordan, a US ally for decades and with close security ties with Israel, has long been a target of radical Sunni Muslim fundamentalist groups including al Qaeda and Islamic State.

It was among the first regional states to join a US-led military campaign against Islamic State, which seized large expanses of Iraq and Syria in 2014-15 but has been pushed back back by US- and Russian-backed counter-offensives this year.

King Abdullah has repeatedly warned that the threat from ultra-hardline Sunni groups poses the biggest threat to Jordan's long-term stability. Amman has imprisoned dozens of hardline Islamists in the last few years, many of whom who came from Syria or were arrested while trying to cross the border.

Jordan's main political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, which commands a large following within the camp, said the attack on Baqaa only served those who sought to sow strife.

"Preserving the stability of Jordan is a religious duty and necessity," said the statement by the mainstream Islamist party.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the attack was "proof of the criminal behavior of terrorist groups" who act against the tenets of Islam.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Tom Perry and Mark Heinrich)

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