AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordanian police used tear gas on Friday to stop fighting after pro-monarchy youths threw stones at a group of Salafis, ultra-conservative Sunni Muslims, demanding freedom for detainees in Zarqa city, witnesses said.
At least 20 people were hospitalized after clashes erupted when dozens of youths carrying batons and rocks attacked scores of Salafis, returning from a rally at a mosque rally to demand the release of more than 200 high-security prisoners, they said.
A security source who confirmed the police used tear gas to disperse the groups said several arrests were made and an investigation was underway.
Jordan's Salafis, whose push for global jihad or holy war has seen them banned in the country, identify with al Qaeda and have staged demonstrations in recent weeks calling for Islamic sharia law to be enforced and an end to curbs on their movement.
Sheikh Abdul Qader Tahawi blamed the violence on plain clothes security personnel.
"They want us to stop our sit-ins to demand the release of our brothers in prisons. Our demands are peaceful and they wanted to provoke us," Tahawi, who witnessed the clashes, told Reuters.
Salafis have no factional ties with al Qaeda but consult with and follow instructions from well-known al Qaeda advocates such as Jordan's Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi, a former mentor of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a commander killed by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2006.
(Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Louise Ireland)