Deadly clashes cast shadow over Jordan’s stability
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.