Jordanian security services have foiled a plot by an al-Qaeda-linked cell to bomb its shopping centres and assassinate Western diplomats, the state news agency has announced.
Security forces detained 11 Jordanian suspects in connection with the plot, which envisaged carrying out attacks in the capital Amman using smuggled weapons and explosives from Syria, according to security officials cited by television.
Minister of Information Samih al-Maaytah said the arrests underscored the serious threat posed by radical "terror groups" seeking to undermine the kingdom's long tradition of stability.
Jordan, which has held a peace treaty with Israel since 1994, enjoys close ties with Western intelligence agencies and has often been targeted by al-Qaeda and other armed groups.
'Mortars from Syria'
"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"
- Security source
Despite taking in tens of thousands of refugees from the Syrian crisis, the alleged plot would be the first time the kingdom has been seriously threatened since the revolt broke out last year.
The cell had targeted two major shopping centres in the capital and was planning a bombing campaign in the capital's affluent Abdoun neighbourhood, where many foreign embassies are located.
A security source said the suspects had manufactured explosives "aimed at inflicting the heaviest losses possible".
"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 and has claimed the rebels are primarily extremist "terrorists".
"Their plans included getting explosives and mortars from Syria," the security source told the Reuters news agency, saying the men 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.
|Police in Jordan issued photos of those detained [Reuters]
The men were training to use "suicide bombers using explosive belts and booby-trapped cars", said another security source.
Maaytah told reporters that members of the group had spent some time in Syria, without saying when they had returned to Jordan.
"This group arrived from Syria. They have been going in and out," said Maaytah, explaining that the case had been transferred to the state security prosecutor.
Another security source said the cell had been fighting for "some period" alongside rebel groups in Syria. Jordan has in recent months arrested scores of hardline 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-linked al-Qaeda explosives experts.
Jordan regularly arrests "terror 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 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.