Deadly clashes cast shadow over Jordan’s stability

Sunday 25/12/2016
Jordanian Guards of Honour carry a picture of Lieutenant-Colonel Saed Mayateh during his funeral in the city of Karak, Jordan, on December 19th, one day after militant attacks killed ten people. (Reuters)

Lethal clashes between Jor­dan’s security forces and militants suspected of be­longing to the Islamic State (ISIS) cast a shadow over the country’s stability.
Four policemen were killed De­cember 20th in an exchange of gun­fire with militants in a house in the central province of Karak. A series of deadly ambushes at the area’s Crusader castle — a popular tour­ist destination — had occurred two days earlier.
Seven members of the Jordanian security forces, two bystanders and a Canadian woman were killed in the December 18th incidents. Four militants were killed in the attacks. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the ambushes.
“We promise the Crusader (anti- ISIS) coalition countries something worse and more severe,” read a statement ISIS posted online.
Security sources said the gunmen involved in the Karak attacks were Jordanian nationals.
Jordanian Interior Minister Sala­mah Hamad said at least five suicide belts were found, along with an am­munition cache, automatic weap­ons and explosives in a house. “I don’t think the target was just Karak Castle. It’s more,” he said.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II vowed he would stand up “to anyone who tries to attack or violate the security and safety of its citizens” in a writ­ten response to the attacks.
“Jordan is strong and able to stamp out terrorism and its criminal gangs,” he said.
Jordan is among several Arab states involved in the US-led air campaign against ISIS but many Jordanians oppose their country’s involvement, fearing blowback in­side the country.
In June, ISIS claimed responsibil­ity for a suicide attack that killed six Jordanian guards on the border with Syria. Another attack the same month was carried out against a Jordanian intelligence facility near Amman, resulting in the death of five people.
In early 2015, ISIS burned alive Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al- Kasasbeh after his plane went down in Syria in December 2014.
Jordan has also been facing a rise in homegrown extremism with hundreds of Jordanians reportedly having joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Last November, three US military trainers were killed by a Jordanian Army member at the entrance of an airbase in the country. Although the result of the investigation into the attack has not been released, politi­cal motives have not been ruled out.
Political analyst Labib Kamhawi told the Associated Press (AP) that the recent attacks highlight the vul­nerability of Jordan, whose claim to be a land of stability in a turbulent region “is not valid anymore”.
“People feel the response of the government was weak and that… the government is not prepared to counteract such actions,” he said. “Previous operations were extreme­ly limited, even in their targets, and were not trying to involve civilians.”
High unemployment and poverty in Jordan have helped extremist groups recruit more people, Kam­hawi said.
The attacks are likely to harm Jordan’s tourism sector, which ac­counts for 14% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Shaher Hamdan, the head of Jor­dan’s association for tourist and travel agencies, told AP the attacks “will certainly have negative con­sequences” on tourism. Jordan’s tourism sector “is already affected by any event in the world or in the region, so imagine a terrorist event inside the country”, he said.
Analysts said Jordan’s tourism industry might need to brace for a downturn.
“If the experience of places like Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt in recent years is any guide, such outrages can quickly lead to cancelled holi­days, empty planes and idle hotels,” wrote Dominic Dudley in Forbes magazine. “Like those countries, Jordan’s tourism industry plays an outsized role in the economy.”
Amman-based Palestinian jour­nalist Daoud Kuttab urged promot­ing tourism as the right way to fight back. “The best response to what happened in Karak is to organise touristic trips to the Karak Castle,” he said in a tweet.