Jordan foils alleged Syrian arms smuggling attempt

Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordanian police are questioning two Syrians who allegedly tried to smuggle a large cache of arms including surface-to-air missiles into the kingdom, a security official said Wednesday. It was the second such attempt reported in a week.

The official said earlier that preliminary reports indicated that five had been arrested near the northern Syrian border early Tuesday. He said the reason for discrepancy in the number was not immediately clear and declined to elaborate further.

The announcement came a week after authorities said they had arrested another group of smugglers, including Syrians, trying to bring in arms. They said the group arrested late Thursday was caught with the largest arms cache to be brought to the kingdom from Syria during its 2-year-old civil war.

The official said anti-tank missiles, surface-to-air missiles and assault rifles were seized with the two men caught on Tuesday.

He declined to say if the alleged smugglers were affiliated with any side in Syria's civil war.

"There is an investigation now to determine if the two men were rebels seeking to hide weapons in Jordan, or that they smuggled them in with the malicious intention of staging attacks here," he said.

His account was confirmed by another security official. Both insisted on anonymity because they are not allowed to publically comment on a security matter under investigation.

Jordan is concerned that Syria's war will spill across the border, and in particular that al-Qaida-linked groups of the rebels or agents of Damascus or its allies, like the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, will stage attacks to destabilize the pro-U.S. kingdom.

Despite repeated public government denials, Jordan acted earlier this year as a transit point for weapons financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and destined for Syrian rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad.

Jordan wants to avoid further friction with its larger and more powerful Syrian neighbor, with whom relations have traditionally been bumpy over the years.

Syria has been traditionally suspicious of Jordan's alliance with the United States and its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, one of two signed agreements Israel has with Arab countries.

Jordan is a fiery critic of Syria's alliance with Iran, which adheres to the rival Shiite sect of Islam. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim governments worry that Iran's growing influence in the region, stretching from Iraq to Syria, would eventually engulf countries in the Persian Gulf, where there are Shiite communities like in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia itself.

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