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Islamic State Violence Raises Tensions in Jordan

  • Heather Murdock

Bordering Iraq and Syria, Jordan hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing the Islamic State. Some of the refugees are Christians who say they were especially targeted by the extremists, although IS victims have included every religious group in the region.

Umm Ahmed cleans houses and does odd jobs to support her four children after fleeing Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold in Syria. She weeps as she tells us she can not afford health care for her children, and their father has abandoned the family.

Like most refugees here, Umm Ahmed is a Muslim, and is barely surviving in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

While fewer in number, Christians fleeing the Islamic State say they are particularly targeted.

In recent months, the Islamic State has stepped up attacks on Christians, raiding villages, abducting hundreds of people and releasing a gruesome video of the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.

Henna is the mother of five from outside the city of Mosel, Iraq, another Islamic State stronghold. She says before she fled Iraq Christians were being hunted and attacked by the Islamic State, which eventually issued an ultimatum that made them run: convert or die.

Sister Mariana, who helps take care of Henna and other families, says many people will never recover from the trauma.

“They want to secure their future, the futures of their children," she said. "Already [for] them, it is finished. For them, it is finished for them, but for the babies, for the children.”

Analysts say it is not exclusively Christians that are the targets, it is anyone who does not follow the Islamic State’s extremist ideology.

Author and former member of Jordan's parliament, Hamadeh Faraneh, says the underlying causes of the Islamic State's growth are not even related to religion.

But the group's rise, he says, is increasing tensions in Jordan, creating sectarian divides.

Faraneh says sectarian tensions are rising in Jordan, along with hunger and poverty. These factors, he adds, are at the root of violence.

Jordanians are also quick to point out they do not consider the conflict with the Islamic State to be a religious conflict, because they do not consider Islamic State fighters to be Muslims.

In a park in Amman, Mahmoud Qasam plays with his children. He says the Islamic State is falsely named, because they are neither Islamic nor a state, but a terrorist organization.

The Islamic State has captured vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and is expanding its reach, with militants in Libya, Egypt and most recently Nigeria, declaring their allegiance to the extremist group.

And despite international efforts to beat back the extremist group, refugees of all faiths are losing hope they will ever again go home.