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Jordan to free most of those arrested in alleged plot to destabilize the government

By STEVE HENDRIX | The Washington Post | Published: April 22, 2021

JERUSALEM — Jordanian authorities said Thursday they would release most of those arrested this month for allegedly plotting to destabilize the rule of King Abdullah II.

The arrests, which occurred simultaneously in locations around the country and included members of the royal family, have roiled the usually staid Middle Eastern nation, a key U.S. ally in the region.

Sixteen of those detained would be freed, according to a statement from the State Security Court. Two other two individuals — royal family member Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and former finance minister Bassem Awadallah — were described as having "different roles" in the alleged plot and would remain imprisoned, the statement said.

The king's half brother, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who was also implicated by authorities in the alleged plot and confined to his palace in Amman, was not mentioned in the statement.

The prosecutor's office said the releases stemmed from Abdullah's desire to show leniency during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, "the month of mercy and forgiveness."

The move followed a meeting Thursday at which family members of those arrested beseeched the king to release the prisoners, according to a statement from the palace. In response, Abdullah advised officials to look favorably on those deemed to have been misled into participating in the alleged plot, the statement said.

"As a father and a brother to all Jordanians," the king said, "and in this holy month of tolerance and solidarity, when we all wish to be with our families, I ask the relevant officials to look into the proper mechanism to have those who were misled into following the sedition, return to their families soon."

The allegations of sedition and subsequent detentions exposed deep tensions in the ruling Hashemite family. Hamzah had been crown prince for four years before the title was transferred to Abdullah's eldest son, Hussein, in 2004. In recent years, Hamzah has made a public display of solidarity with Jordanians unhappy with the country's economic and social conditions, raising the ire of his half brother's supporters.

At the time of the arrests April 4, officials let it be known that Hamzah was suspected of purposely sowing discontent as part of an organized attempt to weaken Jordan's "security and stability."

Among those arrested — and now apparently to be freed — were several members of the prominent Majali clan known to associate with the prince. They included Yasser Majali, the head of Prince Hamzah's office, Sheikh Sameer Majali and several others who served in prominent positions in the government and military.

The government has suggested that Hamzah and other plotters were working with foreign actors, although it has yet to publicly produce evidence to support that claim.

Speculation about possible regional involvement intensified soon after the arrests when an unscheduled high-ranking delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Amman. The Saudi officials requested the release of Awadallah, who is known to be close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official whose government monitored the events. Awadallah is a Jordanian national and former top adviser to Abdullah who had previously served as the king's special envoy to Riyadh, which granted him a Saudi passport.

Since the sweep, the palace has sought to portray a mood of reconciliation, releasing a letter with Hamzah's signature pledging his loyalty to the king.

But video and audio messages suggested that the prince remained defiant. One recording purportedly captured Hamzah's angry exchange with Jordan's military chief of staff over the restrictions placed on the prince.