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World & Nation

Car bomb kills 6 Jordanian security officials near Syrian refugee camp

Jordanian soldier
A Jordanian soldier guards the Syria border in the Rugban area, northeast Jordan.
(Jamal Nasrallah / European Pressphoto Agency)

An explosion near a Syrian refugee camp in the remote northeastern corner of Jordan killed at least six security officials and wounded 14 others on Tuesday, army officials said. 

A car bomb blew up near a sand berm a few hundred yards from the Rukban refugee camp, a Jordanian army statement said, quoting an unnamed military official. The camp lies 8 miles southwest of where the borders of Jordan, Iraq and Syria converge.

The blast, the statement said, targeted a “forward military post” manned by army soldiers, civil defense officials and Jordanian border guard forces offering assistance to the refugees.

An earlier statement added that “a number of the hostile attacking vehicles near the berm were destroyed.”

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The car came from the direction of the Syrian border, a Jordanian military official with the army’s media office said, and investigations were still ongoing to determine the amount of explosives used.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, tweeted on Tuesday that Jordan’s military was attacked by “the hand of cowardice and terrorism.” He vowed that “this evil will be defeated.”

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Rukban, a featureless desert area that once served as an informal crossing between Jordan and Syria, has become the makeshift home of tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the violence in their country to Jordan.

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In recent months, fighting in Syria’s Homs and Raqqa provinces -- where many areas are controlled by Islamic State -- has swelled the number of refugees at Rukban to an unprecedented 68,000 people, according to figures by UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency.

Video footage uploaded by refugees in Rukban depicts a sprawl of tents stretching for miles between sand berms marking the demilitarized zone between the two countries. The border’s unclear delineation has made it illegal for relief organizations and the Jordanian military to administer aid in the camp itself for fear of inadvertently entering Syrian territory. 

Despite the growing mass of refugees on its border and growing pressure from international aid groups, Jordan has only permitted a trickle of asylum seekers -- anywhere from 50 to 100 people per day -- into the country. It has insisted that all who enter must undergo extensive security screening to ensure they do not sympathize with Islamic State.

Throughout the five-year civil war raging in Syria, Jordanian authorities have often reported foiling attempts by unknown parties to cross into the country from Syria. 

The security situation along the border pushed Jordan to award an $18.6-million contract to U.S. defense contractor Raytheon to install “passive barrier fencing, sensors, cameras and a command and control system” across areas of the Jordan-Syrian border including Rukban, according to a statement released by Raytheon in October of last year.

Jordan, an important regional ally of the U.S., joined the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in 2014. Last year one of its pilots, Lt. Moaz Kasasbeh, was captured and brutally murdered by the militant group after his plane crashed over Syria.

Earlier this month, three officers with Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate and two others were shot by a gunman near the Jordanian capital, Amman, in what was said to be an attack inspired by the Islamic State.

Jordan has also provided support to Syrian rebel factions fighting Islamic State near the Tanf border between Syria and Iraq, 12 miles northeast of Rukban. 

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Bulos is a special correspondent. 

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UPDATES:

3:52 a.m.: This article was updated with information about U.S. defense contractor Raytheon.

This article was originally published at 3:32 a.m.

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