News / Middle East

    Islamic State's Popular Appeal Presents Challenge for Jordan

    FILE - Undated photo shows fighter of the Islamic State group waving flag from inside captured government fighter jet following battle for Tabqa air base, Raqqa, Syria.
    FILE - Undated photo shows fighter of the Islamic State group waving flag from inside captured government fighter jet following battle for Tabqa air base, Raqqa, Syria.
    Reuters

    He had a good job and a loving family, but it wasn't enough for a 25-year old Jordanian who abandoned his life of privilege in Amman to join the Islamic State group that has seized swaths of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

    Handsome, courteous and highly regarded in his profession as a radiologist, the man, whose name has been withheld for security reasons, disappeared in early August after the Muslim Eid holiday. He did not tell his family where he was going.

    He later called his parents from an undisclosed location to say he had “forsaken his life for the glory of Islam”, said a relative. “His father is heartbroken, and his mother is in hospital from shock,” he said.

    He is among the first known cases of Jordanians joining Islamic State since the group declared a “caliphate” in June after dramatic territorial gains in Iraq and Syria.

    His story points to the widening support for Islamic State among Jordanian Islamist fundamentalists inspired by its recent advances in countries that border Jordan to the east and north. With that support come new risks for a U.S. ally mostly unscathed by the Middle Eastern turmoil of recent years.

    Jordan's powerful intelligence services appear to be deploying their full range of tools to counter the threat. King Abdullah has said the country has never been better prepared to face the radical threat sweeping the region.

    Islamic State's gains have sparked a fierce debate among Jordanian Islamists from the ultra-orthodox Salafist movement on whether to back the group, whose brutality has been criticized even within radical Islamist circles.

    But buoyed by territorial gains, Islamic State's sympathizers appear to be winning the argument.

    “Many youths have changed their distorted view of the Islamic State after they saw their actions on the ground, their achievements, and how the West has ganged up against it,” a well-known Jordanian militant told Reuters under the assumed name Ghareeb al-Akhwan al-Urduni.

    "A dream" realized

    Since the civil war erupted in neighboring Syria in 2011, hundreds of Jordanians have joined a Sunni Islamist-led insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. More than 2,000 men, ranging from underprivileged youths to doctors and - in one case - an air force captain, have abandoned Jordan for jihad in Syria, according to Islamists close to the subject.

    At least 250 of them have been killed there.

    But the Islamic State's recent accomplishments are helping to galvanize support like never before among radical Islamists who dream of erasing borders across the Muslim world to establish a pan-Islamic nation.

    It raises the prospect of yet more Jordanians crossing the border to fight, but also the risk of Islamic State sympathizers striking in Jordan itself - a country that has suffered Islamist militancy before, notably bomb attacks on Amman hotels by al-Qaida-linked militants during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

    The appearance of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared “caliph”, calling for the support of Muslims in the pulpit of a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul last June acted like a magnet for young Jordanian Islamists.

    “Their dream was setting up the caliphate, and now they see it being achieved. This made people consider very seriously joining, especially since the Islamic State had officially invited them,” said Bassam Nasser, a Jordanian Islamist scholar.

    The roots of Islamic State can, in one sense, be traced to Jordan. It was Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who founded the Iraqi arm of al-Qaida that would eventually mutate into Islamic State. Al-Qaida has now disavowed the group.

    In the impoverished Jordanian town of Zarqa, Zarqawi's birthplace and a traditional stronghold of Islamist fundamentalists, support for Islamic State was on full display during Eid prayers that marked the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in late July.

    FILE - Members of Jordan's Salafi jihadi shout slogans during a demonstration against prolonged detention of the group's leaders in Amman, Jordan, April 9, 2013.FILE - Members of Jordan's Salafi jihadi shout slogans during a demonstration against prolonged detention of the group's leaders in Amman, Jordan, April 9, 2013.
    x
    FILE - Members of Jordan's Salafi jihadi shout slogans during a demonstration against prolonged detention of the group's leaders in Amman, Jordan, April 9, 2013.
    FILE - Members of Jordan's Salafi jihadi shout slogans during a demonstration against prolonged detention of the group's leaders in Amman, Jordan, April 9, 2013.

    Scores of men dressed in the kind of Afghan-style clothing often worn by radical Islamists waved Islamic State's black flag as they gathered in an open field to listen to Jordanian Islamist Sheik Amer Khalalyeh praise the group.

    “Oh Baghdadi, you who has spread terror in the hearts of our enemies, enlist me as a martyr,” chanted the sheik over a microphone. The footage was captured in a video posted on YouTube.

    "Sleeper cells"

    In the assessment of one senior regional security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, Jordan could be home to “hundreds if not thousands of potential sympathizers” who could turn into “potential sleeper cells and time bombs”.

    The roots of radicalisation in Jordan mirror those commonly cited as its primary cause across the Middle East and include a lack of political liberty and economic opportunity.

    King Abdullah, a steadfast U.S. ally who has safeguarded his country's peace treaty with Israel, is seeking to ease concerns in Jordan about the threat posed by Islamic State.

    “I am satisfied with the preparations of the armed forces and security agencies. We had planned for surprises several months ago and we were ahead of others. I can assure you -politically, securitywise and militarily our position today is stronger than in the past,” he told politicians.

    In an indirect reference to Islamic State, he warned Jordanians not to fall prey to outside parties seeking to exploit their grievances.

    In recent weeks, the Jordanian intelligence services have tightened security around sensitive government areas, stepped up surveillance of Islamist fundamentalists and arrested activists seen as a threat, diplomats and officials say.

    At least a dozen people have been arrested for expressing support for Islamic State on social media.

    It is a new test for the Jordanian security services, which have been a major U.S. partner in fighting radical Islamists.

    Jordan's approach to confronting the risk has set it apart from some other Arab states. Its dependence on sophisticated intelligence gathering rather than arbitrary arrests have been credited for sparing Jordan the kind of vendetta-fueled Islamist insurrections seen in states such as Egypt and Syria.

    The authorities last month released a prominent Islamist scholar, an influential figure in militant circles, who is one of the leading Islamist opponents of Islamic State.

    Sheik Abu Mohammad al Maqdisi's release has added an influential voice to the debate, but also revealed divisions among Jordan's previously cohesive hardline Islamist community of ultra-orthodox Salafist Muslims.

    Maqdisi has mocked Baghdadi's caliphate and expressed outrage at the brutality unleashed by Islamic State.

    “It is giving our jihad a bloody texture that we cannot accept. These images of decapitations are painful. This is something we cannot accept, nor Allah (God). Mercy with the infidels dominated during the spread of Islam,” he said this month in an audio message.

    That has triggered an avalanche of attacks by Islamic State supporters who have shown none of the deference usually reserved for senior scholars such as Maqdisi. They say he was released not because he had served out his five-year jail term, but with a specific remit to attack Islamic State.

    The row has sparked verbal and physical conflict. Two radical Islamists who spoke out against Islamic State's decapitations and indiscriminate killings of Shi'ite Muslims were recently physically beaten by the group's supporters.

    Islamic State's black flag was also raised in June by supporters in the historically volatile city of Maan, a tribal stronghold of over 50,000 people about 250 km (156 miles) south of the capital.

    Here, crosscurrents of crime, smuggling and tribal disaffection are a combustible mix for the government, which is resented for neglecting the area's development. That has provided fertile ground for Islamist recruitment.

    But Mohammad Shalabi, a militant Salafist from Maan who has encouraged Islamists to go to Syria to fight, said Jordan was not a target for Islamic State.

    “The Islamic State ... have no interest in targeting Jordan. When I have not consolidated my presence firmly enough in Iraq and Syria I cannot move to Jordan,” said Shalabi, also known as Abu Sayyaf. He spent 10 years in prison for militancy including a plot to attack U.S. troops in Jordan.

    Shalabi, a respected figure by locals in the city who mediates with tribal chiefs in disputes with the authorities, said his followers had no interest in destabilizing Jordan, unless the government provoked them. “If we felt, God forbid, that injustice is going to befall us or that the circle of injustice is expanding, we will not sit with our hands tied.”

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Samuel Prime from: Canada
    August 30, 2014 1:57 AM
    In the Arab/Muslim world if you want to survive you have to be tough, or else the Islamists will take advantage of anything weak in order to grab power. (Indeed, that is why they have had a whole history of tyrants.) Jordan can therefore learn a lesson from Sisi's Egypt quelling of the Muslim brotherhood. If Jordan does not ban and deal with their Salfists and radical Islamist sympathizers of ISIS (or ISIL) in the way that Egypt has with the brotherhood, then Jordan will be in great danger of becoming the next failed state after Iraq and Syria -- with beheadings, massacres, and even mass refugee crises. The king of Jordan has to get tough with them before the Islamists get tough with him -- because they WILL deal with him. The Saudis are doing just that, but Jordan has to be as tough as Egypt's Sisi if it is to survive. Just as Egypt saved itself, so can (and should) Jordan.

    by: Abu Azfal from: Jordan
    August 29, 2014 11:32 PM
    America, listen, Jordan can not survive this. The 'king" of Jordan is already lives his life with one leg on his airplane ready to flee. Hamas/ISIL are very firmly established in Jordan as "refugees" from Syria and Iraq. The next to be destroyed is Saudi.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    August 30, 2014 8:45 AM
    Hey Abu Azfal from Jordan... Jordan is surrounded by the ultra-extremist enemies of (Saudi Arabia, Israel, and America), that the king of Jordan militarily aligned himself and his kingdom with, and received financial aid from them, for doing it?
    PS;.. And now the (Jordan) friend of the enemies of their enemies, has now become another one of enemies, of their enemies?..... what?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.