Jordan’s Security Court chief stresses effectiveness of anti-terrorist measures

For Jordan, the challenges of fighting terrorism remain.
Sunday 28/01/2018
On alert. A Jordanian soldier takes part in “Eager Lion” military exercises near the city of Maan, last May.  (AFP)
On alert. A Jordanian soldier takes part in “Eager Lion” military exercises near the city of Maan, last May. (AFP)

AMMAN - Jordan is among the countries that have suffered from terrorist attacks by members of extremist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front.

In an interview with The Arab Weekly, Jordan’s State Security Court President Colonel Mohammad Afif highlighted the country’s critical role in fighting terrorism.

“The establishment of a set of new anti-terrorism laws has helped in fighting this plague, stopping terrorists from spreading their ideas and recruiting sympathisers,” Afif said.

“There is a great security cooperation between Jordan and other neighbouring countries and the world in placing all efforts in fighting terrorism and exchange of critical information,” Afif said. “Jordan has approved all international agreements that fight terrorism.

“Jordan — as a country, king, government and people — refuses all acts of terrorism and his majesty King Abdullah II has always stressed on the need to fight terrorism. The king’s words are considered as a message to all security entities which work in harmony with the aim of fighting this criminal act whether internally or externally,” he added.

Jordan’s State Security Court (SSC), administered by the Jordanian military, handles all cases related to state security in addition to drug offences. In 2017, the SSC issued rulings in 14,100 terrorism and drug cases out of the 14,150 it received.

“There is no fixed number of cases,” Afif said. “The total number of cases brought to court over the past years has been on the rise, with a total of 4,300 cases recorded in 2014, 9,700 in 2015 and 14,700 cases in 2016 and in 2017, the cases registered amounted to 14,150, marking a decrease of 550 cases compared to the previous year, after an annual increase trend of some 5,000 cases per year.”

He credited the drop in cases for 2017, compared to 2016, to the country’s security efforts.

“The great efforts by the SSC and the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army, especially the control over the borders, stopped any attempts and limited terrorists’ infiltration into the kingdom and these precautionary efforts have been huge and effective,” Afif said.

King Abdullah has used Twitter to reassure Jordanians that security agencies are on alert and ready to defend the country. Jordan’s frontiers are guarded by people “who are as determined as lions that defend national turf,” the king tweeted.

The General Intelligence Department (GID) announced it had foiled a major terrorist attack in late 2017 targeting military and security facilities, commercial centres, media outlets and moderate religious scholars.

A statement by state news agency Petra said 17 people affiliated with ISIS were arrested for involvement in a plot to rob banks in Zarqa and Russeifa and steal vehicles to sell and buy weapons.

“The members of the cell had planned to carry out a number of terrorist attacks simultaneously to destabilise national security and sow chaos and terror among civilians,” the Petra statement said.

In December 2016, four civilians and five police officers were killed in a shoot-out between assailants and security forces at a medieval castle in Kerak, a prominent tourist site where the gunmen had sought shelter. Twenty-nine people were hospitalised due to the attack.

For Jordan, the challenges of fighting terrorism remain, Afif stressed.

“International cooperation in terrorism cases, different regulations and procedures, translation and pieces of evidence can be a challenge,” he said. “Terrorists use social [media] networks and all of the social networks are based in the United States and I, as a judge, might need to showcase any evidence that was on one of the global social networks. I cannot ask them to provide details, for example, of a message or correspondence because of the privacy policies but internally I can do that with local communication companies.

“The problem is that terrorists use global social networks, which can be a challenge in case we need to find evidence,” Afif added.

While some companies are beginning to cooperate, he said, there are restrictions and getting access to what security services seek can take a long time.

“These are profitable companies and privacy issues are very important for them in their business. That is why it is sometimes hard and this issue happens with all the countries in the world,” Afif said.

He stated that no one can have any compassion for killers and those who claim to be speaking in the name of Islam do not belong to Muslim communities.

“They are terrorists and killers and this has nothing to do with religion. For us, ISIS is a terrorist group and our stand as a kingdom and king is that we are against terrorism,” he said.

Afif said two of the main things that draw people to terrorist groups like ISIS are money and power.

“I have read many statements by suspects saying that they met this person and he showed them the benefits of joining a group, for example, a monthly salary, women, weapons, cars and followers,” which convinced them to join, he said.

“Reading the suspects’ statement shows you that it has nothing to do with religion but more of having the power and authority to kill.”

Afif’s words come at a time when the SSC is having public hearings for 35 suspects accused of plotting attacks in Jordan, promoting extremist ideology and trying to join armed groups.