AMMAN: This file photo taken on Oct 18, 2005 shows the gallows at Swaqa prison, south of the capital. - AFP

AMMAN: Jordan hanged 15 death row prisoners including convicted "terrorists" at dawn yesterday, its information minister said, in a further break with a moratorium on executions it observed between 2006 and 2014. Ten of those put to death had been convicted of terrorism offences and five of "heinous" crimes including rape, Mahmoud Al-Momani told the official Petra news agency. The attorney general for Amman district, Ziad Al-Dmour, said the executions represented "a clear message to anyone who tries to undermines the security of the nation".

Amnesty International, however, expressed shock at the hangings of 15 prisoners - the largest number to be put to death on a single day in Jordan. "The horrific scale and secrecy around these executions is shocking," said Amnesty's deputy director at the group's Beirut regional office, Samah Hadid. Momani said all those executed were Jordanians and were hanged in Swaqa prison, south of the capital Amman. Among the terrorism offences were a 2006 attack on tourists at Amman's Roman amphitheater that killed a Briton and a June 2016 attack on an intelligence service base north of the capital that left five agents dead. They also included the Sept 2016 murder of Christian writer Nahed Hattar as he stood trial for publishing a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam.

King Abdullah II had said in 2005 that Jordan aimed to become the first Middle Eastern country to halt executions in line with most European nations. Courts continued to hand down death sentences but they were not carried out. However, public opinion blamed a rise in crime on the policy and in Dec 2014 Jordan hanged 11 men convicted of murder, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

Opinion hardened after the murder by the Islamic State (IS) group of captured Jordanian pilot Maaz Al-Kassasbeh whose plane had crashed in a jihadist-held region of Syria in Dec 2014 while serving with a US-led coalition. Grisly footage posted in February the following year of him being burnt alive in a cage outraged the public. Swiftly afterwards, Jordan hanged two people convicted of terrorism offences, one of them Sajida Al-Rishawi. She had taken part in a 2005 suicide attack on luxury hotels in Amman organised by IS's forebear, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but her explosives failed to detonate.

According to judicial sources, 94 people remain on death row in Jordan, most of them convicted of murder or rape, following Saturday's executions. Dmour, the Amman attorney general, said executions were "the fate of all those who carry out criminal offences". But Amnesty International warned that the death penalty was not the way to improve security. "This is a major step backwards for both Jordan and efforts to end the death penalty - a senseless and ineffective means of administering justice," Hadid said in a statement. "Jordan had for years been a leading example in a region where recourse to the death penalty is all too frequent... Hanging people will not improve public security," Hadid added.

Jordan, which hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from the conflict in Syria, carries out air strikes on IS in both Syria and Iraq as a member of the US-led coalition. The pro-Western kingdom fears a spillover of the jihadist threat and closely monitors thousands of Jordanians suspected of being IS or Al-Qaeda sympathizers. In June 2016, a car bomb at a crossing from Syria, claimed by IS, killed seven Jordanian security personnel. Amman has responded by sealing the border. - AFP