A mechanical issue with a tourist bus prevented more Westerners from being at a popular Crusader-era castle in Jordan during a Sunday terrorist attack, local media reported.
Two Jordanian civilians and a Canadian woman — retired teacher Linda Vatcher, 62, of Newfoundland — were killed in a spate of attacks on Karak by four gunmen whom authorities said comprised a local terror cell. Visitors to the castle were trapped inside for five hours before being freed from the ancient ruins.
Jordan’s Public Security Directorate said in a statement that the violence began when emergency personnel were ambushed while responding to a house fire north of Karak.
“Unidentified assailants fired at the officers, injuring two of them, then fled in a vehicle,” the PSD said. Then the gunmen shot at officers on patrol, and arrived at the castle where they opened fire on a police station there.
Four police officers and three gendarmes were killed in addition to the three civilian casualties, as well as four terrorists. Nearly three dozen people were injured, including two foreign tourists.
According to the Jordan Times, a bus driver who was supposed to take 13 tourists from Australia, Canada, the UK, the United States and New Zealand from Amman to Karak Castle on Sunday showed up late to pick up his passengers because of mechanical issues with the ride.
That put the tour group just minutes from the castle when gunfire rang out.
“At the turn, a man waved for us not to enter and asked us to drive straight… I realized there was something wrong and the tourists were upset that they miss visiting the castle despite being very close to it following a long journey,” the tour guide with the group told the paper.
The guide then heard gunfire and witnessed locals fleeing from the area.
“Thank God also that the man asked us not to take the right turn as that was a dead end leading to the castle and there would have been no way to escape,” said the guide. “The tourists were afraid, but I asked them to contact their families and reassure them that all is good and that they are safe.”
The State Department warns tourists of a “high” terrorism threat in Jordan, noting that “transnational and indigenous terrorist groups have demonstrated the capability to plan and implement attacks” in the kingdom.
Tourism is a key sector in Jordan’s economy thanks to its well-developed impressive archaeological sites.
State Department press secretary John Kirby issued a brief condolence statement Sunday. “The United States remains steadfast in our commitments to Jordan, one of our closest allies and partners,” Kirby added. “Such attacks only reinforce our collective resolve to create a more secure and stable region and world.”
King Abdullah today met with Christian leaders as a show of solidarity before Christmas. The kingdom is a little over 2 percent Christian.
ISIS has not yet mentioned the attack through its Amaq news agency.