Suspect in Jordan stabbing spree that injured 8 identified as refugee camp resident who 'became religious'

The attacker alleged to have stabbed eight people Wednesday at a popular tourist site in Jordan has been identified as a Palestinian man who his family says suddenly “became religious in a very extreme way."

The incident in the archaeological destination of Jerash left three Mexican tourists, a Swiss woman and their tour guide wounded, Jordan's Public Security office says. Three other Jordanians, including two security officers and a bus driver, were also hurt before the attacker was subdued and arrested. All the victims are reported to be in stable condition with non-life-threatening injuries.

The suspect's family identified him as Mustafa Abu Tuameh, a 22-year-old whom the Jordanian army says lived at a refugee camp in Jerash.

Tuameh’s family told the Associated Press that he was not a member of any organized militant group and believed he had acted alone, but they said he had recently become very religious, was very poor and apparently planned to die during his attack.

One of the victims of a knife attack in Jerash, Jordan on Wednesday. (AP)

One of the victims of a knife attack in Jerash, Jordan on Wednesday. (AP)

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"Today he told his mother that he has only 35 piasters [50 cents] and he was going out and might not come back," said an uncle, Younis Abu Amrah.

Abu Amrah described his nephew as once being “a normal person who was interested in looking good, so he would have a special haircut.”

But two years later, Abu Amrah told the AP, things started to change.

"All of a sudden he became religious in a very extreme way, and he would say this is forbidden in Islam and that is forbidden," Abu Amrah said.

He said the family is very poor, with 10 children, and that his nephew had worked in a mill in the refugee camp. He said the family condemned Tuameh’s actions.

"If we knew he was going to do this, we would have broken his legs. This is unacceptable," the uncle said, adding that security forces ransacked the family's house but found nothing.

Residents of the camp also signed a letter denouncing what they called a "terrorist attack that was carried out by a coward,” according to the Associated Press.

Tourists pass through the Arch of Hadrian, built during the Roman Empire, and the South Gate of the well preserved Ancient Roman city of Gerasa, in the city of Jerash, Jordan, in 2015. 

Tourists pass through the Arch of Hadrian, built during the Roman Empire, and the South Gate of the well preserved Ancient Roman city of Gerasa, in the city of Jerash, Jordan, in 2015.  (AP)

An amateur video purportedly taken moments after the attack showed a disturbing scene in the ancient city whose ruins include a Roman amphitheater and a columned road.

"It's a dagger, it's a dagger, there is a knife. Please, help him now!" a woman was heard screaming in the video.

Brent Pelkey, an American tourist who witnessed the stabbing, told the AP that the attack came out of nowhere on what appeared to be a normal day.

“I look ahead and I see a guy in a black suit running toward a group of tourists and he doesn’t look like he has the best of intentions,” Pelkey said. “Next thing I see is some tourists running around, some screaming, and the next thing I see is a few on the ground.”

He said he saw a woman bleeding “profusely” from the side of her body. He moved closer and said he saw three other people bleeding on the ground and in “serious pain” then another person who looked like a park worker or guide also down.

Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said he called his Swiss counterpart and Mexico's deputy foreign minister to tell them the kingdom was providing medical treatment to those "injured in the horrible stabbing crime." He said he assured them that the investigation was underway.

The motive for the attack remains unclear.

Jordan's economy relies heavily on tourism, and Islamic militant groups in the past have targeted tourist sites.

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In 2016, a series of shootings carried out by ISIS in Karak left 14 people dead, including a Canadian tourist.

Those attacks ended after four gunmen were shot and killed by Jordanian security forces during a standoff at Karak Castle, a Crusader fortress and popular tourist destination.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.