Amman (AFP) – Eight people, including four tourists, were wounded in a knife attack on Wednesday at the famed archeological site of Jerash in northern Jordan, a security spokesman told AFP.
Four tourists — three Mexicans and a Swiss woman — were wounded, along with a Jordanian tour guide and a security officer who tried to stop the assailant, public security directorate spokesman Amer Sartawi said.
“The assailant was immediately arrested,” the security directorate said in a statement.
The motive for the attack, which took place around noon (1000 GMT) at the Roman ruins of Jerash, a popular attraction 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Amman, remains unknown, Sartawi added.
A source in the security services, requesting anonymity, told AFP that the attacker was identified as 22-year-old Moustafa Abourouis and that he “came from the Palestinian refugee camp of Souf”.
The Souf camp, located not far from Jerash, was established in 1967 to shelter Palestinians fleeing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the Six Day War between Israel and Arab states.
Health Minister Saad Jaber confirmed that eight people had been wounded, after Sartawi said they had been transported to hospital for treatment.
Jaber visited the wounded at the public hospital in Jerash, accompanied by the Mexican ambassador to Jordan.
The minister said that four of the victims “suffered moderate to severe wounds, while the other four had minor injuries.” “A Mexican tourist in serious condition and a Jordanian tour guide” were transferred via helicopter to the King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, he added.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi telephoned his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis and deputy Mexican foreign secretary Julian Ventura to assure them Jordan was caring for their country’s citizens and that they would be kept abreast of the results of investigations.
Jordanian tour guide Zouheir Zreiqat witnessed the attack and told AFP that it happened “just before midday when around 100 foreign tourists” were at the site.
“A bearded man in his twenties wearing black and brandishing a knife started to stab tourists,” Zreiqat said.
He said others started to shout for help and he, along with three other tour guides and three tourists managed to stop the assailant.
“We chased him until we could grab him and get him on the ground,” Zreiqat said.
“We took the knife from him. He stayed silent, without saying a word until the police arrived and arrested him.” It was not the first time a Jordanian tourist attraction has been the site of an attack.
In December 2016, in Karak, home to one of the region’s biggest Crusader castles, 10 people were killed in an attack that also left 30 wounded.
Seven police officers, two Jordanian civilians and a Canadian tourist were killed in the attack.
Claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), it sparked concern for the tourism industry, a mainstay of the Jordanian economy.
Ten people were convicted of carrying out the attack, with two sentenced to death.
Several violent incidents struck the country the same year, including a suicide attack in June claimed by IS that killed seven Jordanian border guards near the frontier with Syria.
Amman has played a significant role in the United States-led coalition fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, both of which neighbour Jordan.
Lacking in natural resources and reliant on foreign aid, the kingdom faces an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent and a fifth of the 10 million-strong population live just above the poverty line.
Tourism is a key sector, accounting for 14 percent of GDP in 2019, and Jordanian authorities have been working to pull it out of a crisis caused by regional unrest.
Jordan’s economy as a whole was hit hard by the combined impact of the 2007 international financial crisis, the Arab Spring uprisings that and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Jordan boasts 21,000 archaeological and historical sites that span millennia, according to the tourism board.
They include the Roman ruins of Jerash, the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where some believe Jesus was baptised.
Jordan welcomed seven million tourists in 2010, but arrivals plunged to around three million in each of the following two years, tourism board head Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said in April.
Numbers have rebounded as the war in neighbouring Syria has abated, officials have said, and the government is working to bring annual tourist arrivals back up to 7 million by 2020.