Jordan in the eye of the storm

Sunday 12/06/2016

The killing of five intelligence officers in a terrorist attack on a security bureau in Jordan’s Baqa’a refugee camp repre­sents a major blow against the state. The terrorists are trying to settle old scores, particularly as authorities have never hesitated to do everything in their power to confront them.

Jordan has not just directly confronted terrorism on the ground; it has sought to neutral­ise the ideology terrorists use to justify their crimes.

Jordanian King Abdullah II has done everything in his power to affirm that terrorism such as this has nothing to do with true Islam. He has clarified that it is Muslims who suffer the most at the hands of the terrorists and that Muslims have a duty to confront terrorism.

The terrorists, in targeting the General Intelligence Department (GID) office in this manner, are sending a message to Amman. They are seeking not only to strike a blow against the security agency that has been so critical in neutralising them but also to strike a blow against the prestige of the Jordanian state.

They are also perhaps seeking to reignite the conflict in Jordan’s refugee camps that would sow even greater chaos across the country.

Baqa’a, which houses more than 100,000 Palestinian refu­gees, is the largest refugee camp in the country. Jordan’s refugee camps have historically been scenes of violence between opposing political groups, particularly prior to the 1970s when they were outside of government control. Groups embracing different causes and ideologies were able to run riot until Jordan launched a military campaign to end that era of chaos.

Jordan has fought a prolonged war against terrorism. This began in the era of King Hussein and continued during the current reign of King Abdullah II. Alarms must be ringing following the latest attack on the GID office in Baqa’a.

The last time Jordan was rocked by a terrorist attack such as this was in November 2005 when al-Qaeda targeted three hotels in Amman in coordinated suicide attacks that killed more than 60 people. Jordanian authorities responded quickly — and deci­sively — to the attacks.

Jordanian authorities, includ­ing the GID, played a pivotal role in the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq. A Jordanian national viewed as the spiritual godfather of the Islamic State (ISIS), Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike in a targeted killing in June 2006 north of Baghdad. Although his death represented a major blow against terrorism, the war between Jordan and al-Qaeda and lately its offshoot ISIS has continued.

This attack on Baqa’a camp, which is between Amman and Irbid, could be seen as a first important test for the new government that was formed by Hani Mulki, particularly as parliamentary elections are expected before the end of the year. National security and the fight against terrorism can be expected to be high on the campaign agenda, particularly given Jordan’s sensitive geo­graphic position neighbouring both Syria and Iraq.

Jordan is in the eye of the storm. The situation, even after the latest terrorist attack, is relatively calm compared to what the future of the country may face from ISIS and other terrorist groups.

One hundred years after the Sykes-Picot agreement that brought the country into exist­ence, Jordan must reaffirm that it is capable of defending itself and ensuring its existence at a time when the Middle East is in the middle of a complex, multidimen­sional conflict.