ISIS sets its sights on Jordan

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on Youtube on June 12, 2014, allegedly shows Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants taking part in a military parade in the northern city of Mosul. (Photo: AFP/Youtube)

By: Abdul-Rahman Abu Sneineh

Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The ramifications of ISIS’ recent victories [in Iraq] did not take long to reach Jordan, in particular the southern Maan region, a hotbed of tension where a few days ago dozens of Salafi jihadis held a pro-ISIS march. They called for the removal of the borders established by the Sykes-Picot agreement and backed "the ISIS conquest of Iraq."

Amman: As ISIS redraws the map in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is only a stone's throw away from its fighters. They took control of the Turaibil border crossing for several hours, before the Iraqi army announced they had managed to recapture the crossing and expelled the gunmen. Sources are indicating that Jordan participated in a raid on ISIS convoys, although security officials in the kingdom refused to comment on the situation.

The initial hit-and-run attacks along the 181 kilometer-long border are raising concerns in Amman about ISIS expanding into Jordanian territory. Jordan is already witnessing a tense security situation due to the presence of many Syrian refugees, as well as the participation of around two thousand Jordanians in armed Islamist groups, who have expressed that Jordan might be their next goal. This was made clear in several clips posted on YouTube, the main media platform for the armed groups.

Ibrahim S., an Iraqi working as a technical director in a Jordanian factory, explained that he has been hesitant to go back to Iraq in his private car for the past week. He told Al-Akhbar that he received calls from family and friends warning him about travel via land since "ISIS gunmen have set up checkpoints on the Amman-Baghdad international highway."

Hazem Qashou, head of the foreign committee in the Jordanian parliament, officially expressed indignation concerning the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from border zones, "which caused a real problem at the borders." As for the expansion of ISIS into Jordan, along with the already growing salafi tide in the country, Qashou indicated to Al-Akhbar that the region is going through a period of hardship.

"Thus, the opposition and loyalists have to stand by the army and the armed forces," he said. Qashou also revealed a prospective visit by Jordanian MPs to the borders with Iraq. "There are contacts between [Jordanian] MPs and Iraqi officials to discuss the impending threat."

Despite the news about the recapture of Turaibil, some video clips show the crossing abandoned with the Iraqi army nowhere insight. However, Jordanian military sources announced that dozens of troops have been put on alert close to the location, which is the main entry point to Iraq. Eyewitnesses explained to Al-Akhbar that several convoys of tanks, armoured carriers, and rocket launchers have been deployed in the region.

Jordanian government spokesperson, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammed al-Momani, denied rumors that Jordan decided to close its borders with Iraq. However, he indicated in press statement that movement at the border is very limited.

Al-Akhbar examined the situation from the military perspective, which was described by retired Major General Mohammed Khreisat, a former director of military operations, who is currently working in the Royal Defense Academy. He warned about an expected scenario, in which "Nouri al-Maliki's government, with the support of Iran and the US, would push for a counterattack against ISIS-controlled regions. This will cause a wave of displacement that Amman cannot handle nor deal with."

"For ISIS to expand in this manner, there must be a popular base to support it," he added. "It is no secret it has a vanguard in the kingdom, who are part of the ideological framework of the state." However, Khreisat insisted that "internal immunity and the readiness of the Jordanian army will not give them the opportunity."

On the longer term, Islamist movement researcher Ibrahim al-Fayoumi concluded that the real danger is not in the immediate ramifications. "The problem lies in an intellectual approach whose dangers must be considered by everyone," he explained. "That Jordanian jihadis are being sent to Syria and Iraq is an established fact. Around three months ago, Syrian television broadcast the pictures of people from ISIS and al-Nusra Front. It was later discovered that some lived in Azmi al-Mufti camp near Irbid (in the north) and others were from Maan (in the south), as well as al-Zarqa and other cities."

In his interview with Al-Akhbar, Fayoumi warned of an incubator and sleeper cells for this organization in Jordan. "The appointment of a large number of Salafis as mosque imams and preachers contributed to the situation. They were able to lure simple people to their ideology." He evoked the condolences expressed by several Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood leaders after the death of [al-Qaeda's] Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "which means they adopted his approach in thought and armed action."

However, there is no link between that event and the Muslim Brotherhood’s current position. Hamza Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, explained that ISIS originated from al-Qaeda. It is expected to expand if the situation remains the same in the Arab world. Mansour was speaking last week after his party was unable to find any official or private venue to hold its fourth general conference. It is believed the decision came from the government. But they were able to hold the meeting in a public square.

In a press conference following the event, Mansour added that "no place will remain safe from al-Qaeda. We warn the Arab regimes about their war against moderation and moderate Islam, since this will give fuel to jihadi organizations."

The Muslim Brotherhood official called on the Jordanian government to implement reforms and be more representative of the people's will, "to avoid a breach in the security wall, since the existence of ISIS came as a response to internal violence and the US occupation."

Leaders of the jihadi Salafi movement in Jordan, however, joined Ayman al-Zawahiri in criticizing the brutality of ISIS. This included preacher Iyad al-Qunaibi, who spoke to Al-Akhbar last week and was later assaulted and his car smashed by six suspected ISIS supporters in Jordan.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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