ISIS knocks at Jordan’s door

Friday 11/03/2016
ISIS is changing tactics to become more confrontational

AMMAN - Jordanian officials had boast­ed their country was free of the Islamic State (ISIS), though they were anxious the jihadists were at the country’s doorstep in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
But in late February, two separate crackdowns on armed groups in northern Jordan led to the arrest of dozens of militants, 13 of whom are said to be ISIS jihadists, including some non-Jordanian Arabs, accord­ing to two Jordanian officials.
The others are affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, said officials who declined to be identified citing the sensitivity of their information during the inves­tigation.
A third crackdown on March 1st was the fiercest and trickiest, dis­turbing the country’s relative peace and reputation as a stable and se­cure oasis in a region plagued by wars and violence.
The operation involved storm­ing an abandoned four-storey, white-limestone building with 20 militants inside, the officials said, adding that all the militants were trained ISIS jihadists, with some having just returned from battle­fronts in Syria and Iraq.
The militants were heavily armed and most wore explosive belts, 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 fighting just outside Irbid, Jordan’s third most populous city, according to a statement by the General Intel­ligence Agency. Thirteen ISIS jihad­ists were taken into police custody for questioning.
Jordanian Interior Minister Sala­meh Hammad said in late January that “there are no ISIS sleeping cells in Jordan”, although his predeces­sor had warned in early 2015 of an ISIS presence in the country.
The ISIS March 1st battles with Jordanian security forces, which lasted more than ten hours, indi­cated it was changing tactics to become more confrontational. In earlier crackdowns, alleged ISIS or other militants surrendered peace­fully.
One of the Jordanian officials said the arrests foiled a serious terror plot just hours before it was due to be carried out.
“They had planned to attack sev­eral vital Jordanian institutions, using the arms they had and the explosive vests,” the official said. “Their zero hour was 12 hours after they were arrested.”
Jordanian analyst Mohammad Abu Rumman said the resistance was unprecedented and may point to a new fatwa that orders “ISIS ji­hadists and loyalists in Jordan not to surrender and instead to resort to armed resistance”.
“There’s also a significant chang­ing trend,” Rumman said. “Militant elements from Jordan used to travel abroad to join the group but with the tightening of the borders and the beefed-up security measures, it seems that its loyalists are thinking seriously of bringing the confronta­tion to Jordan.
“We have seen what a little group was able to do in terms of destroy­ing peace and tranquillity. I wonder if this may not incite other ISIS ac­tivists to follow suit,” he said.
ISIS has followers in Jordan, al­though government officials stress they are only sympathisers, while the 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 were killed in battles. Security offi­cials would only say the investiga­tion will determine a motive and the timing of the March 1st attack, how such large weapon stockpiles were purchased or smuggled into Jordan and whether this was an isolated incident or one of a series and what is the message to the government. Security was beefed up around various areas, such as public parks, malls, movie theatres, Amman air­port, Western hotels and diplomatic missions across the country.
The potential target of the March attack that has emerged is the Uni­versity of Yarmouk, a state college with thousands of students en­rolled from Jordan and Gulf Arab states, primarily Saudi Arabia, Ku­wait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Jordan is an active member of a US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Hours after the bungled plot was uncovered, the United States deliv­ered eight UH 60A Black Hawk heli­copters to Jordan, worth $200 mil­lion. US Ambassador Alice G. Wells said the aircraft were intended to help “provide Jordan with another tool for safeguarding its frontiers”.
Since February 2015, the United States has reportedly delivered to Jordan upward of 26,000 weapons, more than 3 million rounds of am­munition and hundreds of bombs. Wells said the United States wanted to ensure the Jordanian military was able to continue to respond quickly to threats along its border.