Jordan Releases 16 Accused in Alleged Plot, Soothing Royal Rift

AMMAN, Jordan — Sixteen people accused of a plot to foment unrest in Jordan this month were released from custody Thursday pending further investigation, a military judge announced, marking a new chapter in an unusually turbulent episode in the normally placid kingdom.

Jordan was roiled at the start of April when the government accused a former crown prince, Hamzah bin Hussein, of plotting to undermine state security along with 18 accomplices.

Two of the accused — the former head of the royal court, Bassem Awadallah, and a minor member of the royal family, Sharif Hassan bin Zeid — remained in custody on Thursday night because of the severity of the charges against them. The prince himself was never technically arrested, and the royal court has previously said that he remains at his palace, under the “care” of King Abdullah II, his older half brother.

The crisis has ruffled Jordan’s carefully crafted reputation as a rare beacon of stability in a turbulent region. King Abdullah is considered a critical Western ally in the Middle East, since he allows countries, including the United States, to use Jordanian soil as a base for military campaigns in the region. Jordan is also a key interlocutor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the host of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

The move on Thursday appeared to be aimed at restoring Jordan to some degree of normality. At the time of the arrests several weeks ago, the government had hinted of a foiled coup attempt. But in a statement published shortly before the accused were released on Thursday, the king stressed that they had never posed an “imminent threat to the country, since the sedition, as I have said, has been stopped.”

In the same statement, the king also framed the release as a sign of his magnanimity.

“As a father and a brother to all Jordanians,” the king wrote, “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.”

Rifts in the royal family have usually occurred in private. The feud between the king and the prince shocked Jordanians because of the way it played out — with public accusations of sedition by the king, and public denials by the prince.

By releasing recordings that criticized government policies, Prince Hamzah also drew rare international attention to wider societal anger at corruption and constraints on freedom, as well as to frustration and disenfranchisement among the groups that helped found the Jordanian state and on whose support the monarchy has traditionally depended.

The involvement of Mr. Awadallah, an adviser to the Saudi court, also led to rumors of Saudi involvement in the alleged conspiracy. The Saudi government has unsuccessfully requested Mr. Awadallah’s release, according to three people briefed on the request, but has denied any involved in his alleged activities.

Rana F. Sweis reported from Amman, and Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem.

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