Crackdown on jihadists after Jordan foiled ISIS plot

Friday 01/04/2016
Officers of Jordanian public security department standing guard

AMMAN - Jordanian authorities have rounded up dozens of sus­pected jihadists as an inves­tigation continues into a sty­mied plot hatched by Islamic State (ISIS) militants to destabilise the pro-US Hashemite kingdom.
The crackdown on jihadists is meant to ensure that police do not miss anything in their search for more possible ISIS sleeper cells in Jordan, which has often been tar­geted by militants for its moderate stance on regional issues, its alli­ance with the United States and peace treaty with Israel.
For Jordan, ISIS is an enemy with Jordanian blood on its hands, hav­ing burned alive in a cage a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot in Janu­ary 2015 after his plane was downed over Syria. Jordanian King Abdullah II vowed to avenge the grisly killing.
ISIS controls parts of neighbour­ing Syria to the north and Iraq to the east. Other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front op­erate close to the Jordanian border in Syria.
Thwarting the terror plot on March 1st, reportedly hours before the jihadists were to have struck, was another triumph for Jordan’s US-trained and -equipped special forces.
While the subsequent clamp­down is widely seen as a pre-emp­tive move to root out any remaining sleeper cells , security experts insist it bears deeper signals.
“It instils fear so that some hiding militants may come forward to tip-off,” retired army general Qassem al-Hamad said. “It is also a display of power and the competence of Jordan’s top-notch security forces telling ISIS that not all birds are ed­ible.”
Jordan said a 20-member ISIS cell, including some non-Jordani­ans, had planned to carry out terror attacks. Jordanian intelligence said the jihadists had large stockpiles of machine guns and that some wore explosive belts.
A Jordanian security official said more than 260 jihadists had been rounded up for questioning since the cell was uncovered.
“I can’t give an exact number be­cause many were questioned and released, while some are still be­ing questioned or are suspected of links to other militants, such as al- Nusra,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make press statements.
He declined to disclose informa­tion on the investigation of the de­tained militants, pointing to a gag order imposed by Jordan’s military attorney-general. However, the of­ficial insisted that details would be released “within weeks, if not days”.
He said members of the ISIS cell would be charged publicly and put on trial in Jordan’s military State Security Court. If convicted of ter­ror conspiracy, they could face the death penalty.
The March 1st arrest was preced­ed by two crackdowns on armed groups in northern Jordan in late February, which officials said in­cluded suspected ISIS and al-Nusra jihadists.
The crackdowns came after a Jor­danian grabbed the microphone from a preacher addressing a Friday sermon and called on fellow wor­shippers to join ISIS. The mid-Feb­ruary incident at a mosque in Irbid, Jordan’s second largest city, ended when the man poured fuel on his body and set himself on fire outside the mosque.
Initially, police said it was an iso­lated incident that involved a man who had died of burns, but later of­ficials said the man was alive and hospitalised with first- and third-degree burns and that he was being questioned.
It was not clear whether that incident led to the police action against the group of 20 suspected ISIS jihadists, which investigators previously said included experi­enced Jordanian fighters who had returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The March 1st operation involved storming an abandoned four-sto­rey, white-limestone building with armed militants inside. Police said the explosives were enough to de­stroy the neighbourhood on the edge of Irbid camp for Palestinian refugees, where at least 2,000 peo­ple live.
A Jordanian military captain and seven ISIS militants were killed in more than ten hours of gun battles. Thirteen ISIS jihadists were taken into police custody.
ISIS has followers in Jordan, although government officials stress they are only sympathisers and any actual jihadists are fighting in Iraq and Syria. It is estimated 2,000 Jordanians went to fight in Syria. At least 300-400 joined ISIS and half of them have been killed in clashes.
Government officials would only say the investigation will determine a motive, how such large weapons stockpiles were purchased or smug­gled into Jordan and whether this was an isolated incident or one of a series and what message was being sent to the government.