AMMAN Jordanian security forces killed several outlaws during a manhunt for Islamist militants on Tuesday that involved hundreds of troops in the northern city of Irbid, near the border with Syria.
Riot police and special forces took part in the operation which a security official described as one of the largest sweeps against sleeper cells of sympathisers of hardline Islamist groups in recent years.
Another security source said the troops and helicopters were deployed mainly in a Palestinian refugee camp in the heart of the city where most of the wanted fugitives were holed up.
Jordan did not confirm the targets but said security forces had killed a number of "fugitive outlaws" and wounded several others, and least three members of the security forces had been wounded.
State television quoted officials as saying the operation was continuing in the city, some 20 km south of the border.
Witnesses reported hearing intermittent exchanges of gunfire. The roads leading to the area was sealed off by police.
Jordan has been host to big U.N. camps for Palestinian refugees for more than six decades. The camps' squalid conditions have long been a fertile ground for militants.
Irbid, Jordan's second largest city, also has one of the largest concentrations of Syrian refugees in the kingdom, which hosts over 1.4 million who have fled the near five-year war.
The kingdom has put on trial and sentenced dozens of militants who returned from Syria, some of whom were recruited by Syria's al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front or Islamic State.
It has also arrested dozens of sympathisers who show support for the group in social media.
It was not immediately clear which group the militants being sought represented. One source said they were suspected to be from Islamic State, another did not specify.
Another security told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the covert operation undertaken by the intelligence apparatus targeted mainly members of Islamic State, with at least 30 suspects rounded up.
King Abdullah, a U.S. ally who has safeguarded his country's peace treaty with Israel, has been among the most vocal regional leaders voicing alarm about the threat from Islamic State, which has taken territory in Syria and Iraq.
Jordan's military has waged sorties against Islamic State hideouts in Syria and the kingdom is part of the U.S. led coalition against the militant group.
Since the civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, hundreds of Jordanians have joined Sunni militant groups fighting in the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
Jordan has long been vigilant about the risk of militant strikes in a country that has suffered attacks before, notably bombings on Amman hotels by al Qaeda-linked militants during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams)
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