People and security personnel stand outside the Jordanian intelligence agency office in the Baqaa camp north of the capital following a gun attack. — AFP People and security personnel stand outside the Jordanian intelligence agency office in the Baqaa camp north of the capital following a gun attack. — AFP

BAQAA, Jordan: A gunman apparently acting alone killed five Jordanian intelligence agents yesterday in a daylight "terrorist attack" on their office in a Palestinian refugee camp north of the capital. Jordan is a leading member of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq and Syria, and has been the target of jihadist attacks in the past. "The intelligence agency office in the Baqaa camp was the target of a cowardly attack shortly before 7:00 am (0400 GMT) today that left five agents dead," government spokesman Mohammed Momani said.

Momani said security forces were investigating who was responsible for the "terrorist attack" on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A security source told AFP that preliminary findings suggested the attack was carried out by a lone gunman who opened fire with an automatic weapon before escaping. The shooting happened as the team members were starting their shift. It was unclear whether the gunman was a camp resident or an outsider, the source said, adding that experts were poring over CCTV footage for more clues.

Jordan has seen spillover from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria in the past. In Dec 2005, suicide attacks on three Amman hotels claimed by IS's predecessor Al-Qaeda in Iraq killed 60 people and wounded dozens. The Baqaa camp, where yesterday's attack took place, is 20 km from central Amman and is the largest of the kingdom's 10 official Palestinian refugee camps. On Monday security forces blocked the road to the camp to keep journalists away, an AFP correspondent said. Former member of parliament Mahmud Al-Kharabsha said what happened in Baqaa had been "expected".

'Midst of a Cyclone'

"This camp was chosen for an attack in order to sow sedition (between Palestinians and Jordanians) in the country," Kharabsha told AFP in Baqaa. "What happened was expected. Jordan is in the midst of a cyclone and shares long borders with Syria and Iraq," he added. Baqaa - which suffers from chronic poverty and unemployment - houses around 220,000 people, including more than 100,000 of the two million Palestinian refugees who live in Jordan.

It was one of "six emergency camps" set up in 1968 to house Palestinians fleeing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War during which Israel seized the Palestinian territories, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Baqaa was the home of Mahmud Abdelal, an Islamist extremist who blew himself up in Syria in Oct 2012. In 2010, three Jordanian Islamist extremists were sentenced to prison terms of between three years and life for plotting to kill intelligence officers in the camp, a court official said at the time.

According to sources close to Islamists, almost 4,000 Jordanians have joined jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, where an estimated 420 have been killed since 2011. Jordan has carried out air strikes against IS in Syria since 2014. One of its pilots was captured by the jihadists when his plane went down in Syria in Dec 2014. In February 2015, IS released gruesome footage of Maaz Al-Kassasbeh being burned alive in a cage. His murder prompted Jordan to extend its air strikes against IS to Iraq, where it is the only Arab coalition member taking part in the bombing campaign.

Jordan has also opened up the Prince Hassan airbase, northeast of the capital, to other members of the US-led coalition in the air war. In March, Jordanian authorities announced they had foiled an IS plot to carry out attacks in the kingdom in an operation that led to the deaths of seven jihadists. - AFP