A Canadian female tourist is among at least ten people killed in a shootout between gunmen and security officials in and around a medieval castle in southern Jordan, authorities say.
The Jordanian government says an operation is underway to flush out six “terrorists” from the citadel in the mountainous city of Karak.
Witnesses reported hearing sporadic gunfire in the vicinity of the citadel, which is one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations.
Two Jordanian civilians and seven police officers are also said to have been killed.
Prime Minister Hani al Mulki later told parliament “a number of security personnel” had been killed. The Canadian government confirmed one of its nationals had died in the incident.
Security sources said at least 29 people have been taken to hospital, some with serious injuries.
Mohammad al-Momani, a government minister and spokesman appeared on state television to say a manhunt to “eliminate” the assailants had entered its final phase.
“The security forces and gendarme are in the final stage and we don’t want to preempt news… We will be dealing with this group of terrorists and eliminate them.”
Social media footage has been released purporting to show security forces leading groups of young Asian tourists up the steep steps of the castle, towards the main entrance, when shots were heard overhead.
According to local authorities, the assailants shot dead at least four police officers in an attack on a nearby police station, before blocking themselves inside the crusader-era fort. Police and witnesses said officers patrolling the town had been the targets of an earlier shooting spree by the gunmen. They then moved towards the hilltop castle, reports suggest, and used one of its towers to fire at the nearby police station.
A number of people trapped inside were later reported to have been freed. Around ten foreign tourists who had been on a tour of the castle were among those rescued, according to the police.
Jordan’s public security directorate issued a statement saying:
“Police and security forces have surrounded the castle and its vicinity and launched an operation to hunt down the gunmen.”
The nation is a close ally of the United States. It forms part of the US-led coalition fighting the ISIL jihadist group in Iraq and Syria, prompting the militants to threaten to “break down” Jordan’s borders.
Who carried out the attack?
The identity of the gunmen is unknown and there have been no claims of responsibility at this point.
However, police said they had arrived in Karak from the desert town of Qatraneh, almost 30km northeast of the city. Qatraneh is a known stronghold for smugglers and many of its tribal residents are said to be heavily armed.
Security forces claim the attackers fled to Karak following an exchange of fire with police at a residential building.