By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan said on Saturday four people were killed during a police raid on a house sheltering militants suspected of being behind a bomb attack on a police van a day earlier.
Security forces stormed a building in the city of Salt where suspects behind the planting of the home-made bomb that killed one policeman on Friday were believed to be hiding.
Government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat told the state news agency Petra that three suspects had been arrested so far in an operation that was still underway against a cell hiding in a building in the centre of hillside Salt city, about 30 km (18 miles) west of Amman.
The suspects had refused to hand themselves over to the security forces and blown up part of the hilltop building, Ghunaimat added.
Later Ghunaimat said security forces were moving to seize the site and see if there were any civilians held hostage.
Witnesses heard several strong explosions near the site which a security source said were explosives being detonated by the police as they closed in on the militants.
Police had earlier blamed a gas canister for Friday’s blast near the site of a music festival in the town of Fuheis.
Ambulances were seen rushing to the main city hospital from near the building in a residential area of Salt that was sealed off by police.
Several incidents over the past few years have jolted the Arab kingdom, which has been comparatively unscathed by the uprisings, civil wars and Islamist militancy that have swept the Middle East since 2011.
Militants from al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups have long targeted the U.S.-allied kingdom and dozens of militants are currently serving long prison terms.
Jordan earlier this year said it had foiled an Islamic State plot that included plans for a series of attacks last November on security installations, shopping malls and moderate religious figures, state media reported.
Security forces have been extra vigilant since the start of this year with warnings that sympathisers of Islamic State could launch revenge attacks after the militants were driven out of most of the territory they once controlled in Syria and Iraq.
King Abdullah, a Middle East ally of Western powers against Islamist militancy who has also safeguarded Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, has been among the most vocal leaders in the region in warning of threats posed by radical groups.
Jordan plays a prominent role in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, providing military, logistical and intelligence support, according to Western diplomats and regional intelligence sources.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by David Stamp and Jonathan Oatis)