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Gov’t deems response to Karak terror attack ‘complete success’

By Rana Husseini - Dec 20,2016 - Last updated at Dec 20,2016

AMMAN — Interior Minister Salameh Hammad said on Monday that the security operation in the southern governorate of Karak on Sunday, which ended in the death of four terrorists, was “a complete success”. 

He denied there had been any delay in response or failure in dealing with the incident.

Ten people, including seven police officers, two civilians and a Canadian tourist, were killed by the four suspects who started their killing spree in Qatraneh and ended it in Karak Castle.

“Our security forces dealt with the situation in the utmost professional and heroic way, saving many lives,” Hammad told a press conference at the Prime Ministry.

Thirty-four civilians and police officers were injured during the terror attack that started around 2:30pm in Qatraneh town, around 40km to the north of Karak, and ended around midnight in the castle.

“We took our time to study the castle carefully and prepared a special plan to raid the premises in a manner that would not result in casualties or harm the tourists who were trapped inside,” the minister explained. 

The incident began when a citizen called the police to report a smell of gunpowder coming from a house in Qatraneh, Hammad said.

“A police unit was dispatched to the house and the minute they arrived an explosion occurred, followed by individuals shooting at two officers, killing one and injuring the other,” according to Hammad.

The suspects then took the house owner’s pickup truck at gunpoint and drove off, the minister said, adding that “on the way, they switched vehicles and continued to Karak in an 18-minute ride”.

“The men attacked a police station situated next to the castle and killed three officers who were taken by surprise, then went to the roof of the castle and started shooting at anyone who was moving,” the minister explained.

The minister added that the rescue operation was difficult because the castle  has many subterranean chambers and corridors, and it was dark, “but eventually, our forces used tear gas to smoke them out of their hiding spots and our snipers took them down as they ran out”.

“It was a tricky situation and we made no contact with the tourists there or announced that there were tourists in the area, so that the armed terrorists would not know of their presence,” Hammad added.

Many of the tourists had prior knowledge of the castle’s topography and “hid in the subterranean chambers [or corridors] until they were rescued,” Hammad added.

The minister said the tourists included a Canadian woman who was killed, and her son who was injured, along with a Malaysian national and two British citizens.

Asked by reporters if Karak was the only intended target, Hammad said that based “on my own assumption from the amount of seized automatic weapons, hand grenades and explosive belts found in the [Qatraneh] house, Karak was not the only target”.

Hammad denied prior knowledge of the incident, when asked by a reporter whether the General Intelligence Department (GID) allegedly alerted police 24 hours before the incident.

“The GID had no prior knowledge of the operation and did not alert anyone about the terror attack by this cell,” Hammad said.

He also said that “no weapons, ammunition or explosives were stashed in the castle prior to the incident”.

The minister would not elaborate on the identity of the suspects, their nationality or affiliation.

“It is an ongoing investigation and we cannot reveal details at this time because of the sensitivity of the case,” Hammad explained.

Government Spokesperson Mohammad Momani, speaking at the press conference, said that Jordan’s stance on terrorism is clear “and we will not tolerate it”.

“We will always fight terrorism and we are proud of and confident in our security forces in their fight against terrorism,” Momani, who is also minister of state for media affairs, told reporters.

He also praised citizens’ role in fighting terrorism, including the citizen who alerted the authorities on Sunday when he smelled gunpowder in Qatraneh, which “helped expose the terrorist cell”.

“There are many details and heroic acts regarding the Karak incident that we will reveal at the right time.  For the time being, we are investigating the incident and following up on leads and intelligence information,” Momani said.

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