Jordan has foiled a “terrorist plot” and arrested 11 al-Qaeda suspects who planned to carry out suicide attacks against shopping malls and diplomats, Petra news agency reported on Sunday.
“The General Intelligence Department has foiled a terrorist plot against national security, by an 11-member terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda’s ideology,” it said.
The suspects were planning to launch a wave of attacks targeting shopping malls, diplomatic missions, hotels and other key sites using explosives, car bombs, machineguns and mortars, the state news agency said.
They were arrested before they could carry out their plot, it said, adding that the intelligence services had been alerted to the plot and was monitoring the suspects’ moves.
A judicial source told AFP that the case had been referred to the prosecutor of the state security court -- a military tribunal -- who has begun questioning “11 Jordanian nationals from Salafist movements.”
“They will face two charges: conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts and possession of explosives,” said the source who declined to be named. The charges carry the death penalty.
Petra also published pictures of the 11 suspects.
Information Minister Samih Maayatah told a news conference, meanwhile, that the 11 suspects had entered Jordan from neighboring Syria.
“he prisoners came across the border from Syria and were caught red-handed,” he said, adding that authorities seized weapons and maps showing the locations of the sites they planned to attack.
A key U.S. ally in the Middle East and Israel’s peace partner, Jordan enjoys close ties with Western intelligence agencies and has often been targeted by al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants.
The cell had targeted two major shopping malls in the capital and was planning a bombing campaign in the capital’s affluent Abdoun neighborhood, where many foreign embassies are located.
A security source said the suspects had manufactured explosives “aimed at inflicting the heaviest losses possible,” according to Reuters.
“The group was able to devise new types of explosives to be used for the first time and planned to add TNT to increase their destructive impact,” said the source.
The same security source said there was a crucial link with Syria where President Bashar al-Assad is battling to put down an uprising against his family's rule.
“Their plans included getting explosives and mortars from Syria,” the security source told Reuters, saying the militants had sought to strike at a time of regional upheaval when the country’s security establishment is over stretched.
The authorities said they had seized large quantities of ammunition, machine guns and other items such as computers. The militants were training to use “suicide bombers using explosive belts and booby-trapped cars,” said another security source.
Jordan has in recent months arrested scores of hardline Islamist fundamentalists along its northern border with Syria as they were about to cross into the country to join jihadist groups fighting to overthrow Assad.
If Jordan allows Assad’s opponents to aid the armed uprising, Amman’s security forces fear the Syrian government could retaliate by sending agents to carry out bomb attacks inside the country.
Intercepted electronic mail showed that the cell had received advice from Iraqi al-Qaeda explosives experts.
Jordan regularly arrests Islamist suspects and puts them on trial in military courts that human rights groups say are illegal and lack proper legal safeguards. Many civic groups also say many of the Islamist cases are politically motivated.
In 2005, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for three suicide bombings that ripped through luxury hotels in Jordan’s capital killing dozens of people.