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Jordan's King Abdullah orders release of 8 alleged Hamas operatives

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Thursday October 19, 2006

Amman- Jordans King Abdullah II on Thursday ordered the release of eight alleged Hamas operatives, five months after they were arrested on terrorist charges, government sources said. The special royal pardon covered 236 prisoners ahead of next week's Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr, scheduled for Tuesday to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The releases included prisoners sentenced for less than three years, as well as administrative detainees and juvenile offenders.

The alleged Hamas operatives had been accused of stashing arms and explosives in Jordan and plotting to target military officers and Western tourists.

A Royal Court source refused to attach any political connotation to the decree. The pardons are merely for religious and humanitarian purposes on the eve of the Islamic feast, the source said.

Moslem Brotherhood spiritual guide Salem Falahat labelled the king's pardon as a step to the right direction.

Several freed detainees belong to the Brotherhood or the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood's political arm in Jordan. The Hamas militant organization in the Palestinian territories grew out of the Islamic Brotherhood.

In April, Jordanian authorities rounded up an alleged radical cell and disclosed a major plot that would have targeted army officers and tourists across the kingdom. Officials said at the time that the ring had received orders from Damascus-based Hamas leadership to undermine Jordan's stability.

Three alleged ring members appeared on national television and explained how they had received orders to stash hundreds of weapons and explosives.

That disclosure further exacerbated differences between Amman and the Palestinian militant movement. It also aborted a planned visit to Jordan by Palestinian Authority Foreign Affairs Minister Mahmoud Zahhar, who is part of a Hamas-led cabinet.

Thursday's pardons came two weeks after the king ordered the release of two Islamist parliament deputies, two months after they had each been sentence to one year and one month in jail after they praised the slain Jordanian al-Qaeda leader Abu Mossab Zarqawi.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency