The hostage-taking took place after Jordanian troops clashed with prisoners in three major prisons when they went in to move high-security detainees, security sources said.

 

The policemen were freed after inmates were promised they would not be punished for the hostage-taking.

 

The fighting, which involved 150 inmates, were the most serious in Jordan in recent years and underscored a high-level of coordination among the political prisoners and their ability to rally together almost instantaneously, security experts said.

 

The police officers were among hundreds of Jordanian troops who moved into cells, using tear gas and plastic bullets to quell unrest at the three jails holding some of the country's most dangerous men, some linked to al-Qaida and followers of the network's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

There were unconfirmed reports from prison sources of one inmate dying during the clashes.

Security sources said the prisoners at Swaqa jail thought the troops were coming to take two inmates - Libyan Salem bin Suweid and Jordanian Yasser Freihat - to be executed. Similar clashes erupted at the two other jails almost simultaneously.

Militants

The prisoners came from several underground groups uncovered in the past few years. They had been arrested for plotting attacks on Israelis, Americans and other Westerners.

Among the prisoners in Jwaida are Azmi Jayousi, a Jordanian aide to al-Zarqawi, who was sentenced to death this month over his lead role in plotting chemical attacks in 2004.

Security officials in Jordan, a US ally, say the rise in militancy is tied to growing anti-American sentiment after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Last year there were several strikes by high-security detainees protesting against poor prison conditions and ill treatment.

Jordan denies there are systematic violations of prisoners' rights in its jails.