November 21, 2018

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14-Aug-18: Chasing (some) terrorists in Jordan

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Image Source: Twitter account of Jordan’s royal court

A significant clash between the forces of the king and what are being called a terrorist force happened on Saturday across the valley from us over in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

It all started, as far as we know, with an explosion at a Jordanian music festival on Friday. First reports – like this one from an English-language Arab source, were careful to tiptoe around the possibility of terror:

A vehicle belonging to the Jordanian gendarmerie was hit by an explosion on Friday evening, leaving one sergeant dead and wounding six other security personnel, an official at the General Directorate of the Gendarmerie has said. The blast happened just outside the capital Amman, where the unit was tasked with guarding a cultural festival held in the western outskirt of the city. Local news media quoted government sources denying the blast was linked to terrorism, however, investigations are continuing… Local media quoted security sources as saying that “a gas bomb exploded near the fuel tank, causing the explosion of the vehicle”. The Fuheis festival is an annually held event in Jordan and is considered the second largest festival in the country after the Jerash Festival… Fuheis is a Christian-majority town, around 20km northwest of the capital Amman. [The New Arab (UK), August 11, 2018]

Pretty soon, the story got darker: turns out it was a bomb that 
was planted under a police vehicle providing security at [the festival]… No group immediately took responsibility… Prime Minister Omar Razzaz portrayed Friday’s bombing as a “terrorist attack”… Jordan is a close Western ally in a turbulent region, and has largely been spared from the conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq. However, the kingdom has also been targeted by Islamic militants, both domestic and foreign who have carried out a series of attacks… [Associated Press]

Fuheis (or Fuhais or Al Fuheis) is about 20 kilometers north-west of the capital Amman. The Fuheis Festival has been held annually for the past 25 years and is considered Jordan’s second-largest cultural festival. Wikipedia says the town has 20,000 residents, 60% of them Greek Orthodox Christians. It’s in the Wadi Shueib (Valley of Jethro) area, between Salt and Amman.

A place with a historical heritage [“Is Al-Salt Set to be Jordan’s Next UNESCO World Heritage Site?“] Salt, also called Al-Salt, happens to be where the security forces made up of “special forces”, police and the army carried out a raid on Saturday. And where things seem to have gotten badly out of control. Salt had 97,000 inhabitants in 2006: 65% of them are Muslim and the remainder Christians.

Image Source: Where the ISIS people had their base – till Sunday

Newly appointed government spokeswoman Jumana Ghneimat said the security forces we just mentioned were pursuing a “terrorist cell”. Here’s a summary of what Agence France-Presse reported [“4 security force members, 3 ‘terrorists’ killed in Jordan raid“] on Sunday:

  • Quoting not its own reporters but the Jordanian government, it says: “Four members of the Jordanian security forces and three “terrorists” have been killed during a raid on a militant hideout after an officer died in a bomb blast near the capital…”
  • Making clear Jordan now tied the raid to what had happened in Fuheis on Friday, it said “Five suspects were also arrested during Saturday’s raid in connection with the home-made bomb that exploded under a patrol car at a music festival.”
  • According to Ms Ghneimat, “The suspects refused to surrender and opened heavy fire toward a joint security force”. They “blew up the building in which they were hiding, and which they had booby-trapped earlier”.
  • The three security forces who were killed died in the shootout with the gunmen. A fourth died later of his injuries.
  • The bodies of three terrorists (AFP puts that word in quotation marks) were found in the rubble of the exploded building as were some automatic weapons. Five militants (AFP’s word) were arrested in the operation.
  • AFP quotes “medical sources” saying 11 people “were wounded during the raid, including members of the security forces and civilians who were residents of the building where the militants were hiding“. They included women and children. The AFP report has no details of who thhey were, their ages, or the extent of their injuries.
  • Now this interesting direct quote based on something said by a “security official who asked not to be named”: “All the terrorists who were killed or arrested were Jordanians and residents of Salt.”
  • The king, Abdullah II, is quoted saying Jordan would “strike mercilessly and forcefully” against whoever they are blaming which is not yet specified. “This cowardly terrorist act, and any act that targets the security of Jordan, will only add to our unity, strength and determination to wipe out terrorism and its criminal gangs“. 
  • And this intriguing comment from the recently appointed (see New Jordanian cabinet has fresh faces but same old problems“, The National, June 14, 2018) prime minister Omar al-Razzaz: Jordan will “not be complacent in the hunt for terrorists.
How firmly does King Abdullah actually run things in the kingdom? You get a sense of this from a recent comment by the sober and generally respected Deutschewelle news service:
Since the king calls the shots on all policy issues, it is unclear what mandate Razzaz will have to take measures to pacify the protesters [Jordan’s king appoints Omar Razzaz as new prime minister to defuse protests“, DW, June 5, 2018]

On the other hand, how well that’s going can be surmised by how many prime ministers the king has appointed and then replaced. Since he was crowned on June 9, 1999, Abdullah II has hired and fired 12 prime ministers, not including the new man, Mr Razzaz. They have served, on average, for less than a year and a half each. (We did the calculations from public records.) The economy is perhaps the most visible sign of how much of a challenge Jordan’s managerial class have on their hands: see “‘We simply can’t take this’: Jordanians vow to continue protests after PM resigns” [Middle East Eye, June 5, 2018]

Monday night brought this update:

Jordan said Monday that a terror cell targeted in a deadly weekend raid by security forces was composed of supporters of the Islamic State terror group and shared its extremist views. Saturday’s raid, during which three jihadists were killed and five arrested, revealed that they were preparing a series of attacks in Jordan, Interior Minister Samir Mubaideen said… The suspects “were not part of an organization but followed its takfiri (Sunni Muslim extremist) ideology and supported Daesh… All of them were Jordanians… The raid also foiled other plots to carry out a series of terrorist operations against security installations and public gatherings,” he said. [Jordan says jihadists killed in raid were Islamic State supporters“, AFP, August 14, 2018]

Reuters added:

  • Also quoting al-Mobaideen, it says the “militants… did not belong to a specific group but subscribed to Islamic State ideology… There were plots to wage a series of terror attacks that sought security points and popular gatherings. We know the targets but we won’t tell them so people won’t get terrified”… 
  • [T]here were no signs so far they had foreign links, Mobaideen said, refusing to give names of suspects. “The investigations are secret and ongoing,” he told a news conference
  • Alongside automatic weapons in the suspect’s possession, the authorities found a location where chemical ingredients for manufacturing explosives were buried, Mobaideen added.
  • The militant cell was recently set up and there were indications its members had embraced radical ideology. “What is dangerous is that these new recruits are more impulsive than those with experience in executing operations that harm Jordan’s security,” [head of the Gendarmerie] Hawatmeh told reporters.
  • “Intelligence officials and some experts believe widening social disparities and a perception of official corruption are fuelling a rise in radicalization among disaffected youths in a country with high unemployment and growing poverty.”

A report from a Palestinian Arab source [“Jordanian King Abdullah II vows to eliminate terrorism”, Ma’an News AgencyAugust 12, 2018] datelined Amman says:

The Jordanian King Abdullah II released a statement on Sunday, vowed to end the existence of terrorism, following a deadly terror attack in the town of al-Salt, Jordan. [He] stressed that this cowardly act of terrorism and any action aimed at the security of Jordan “will only increase unity, strength, and determination to eradicate terrorism and its criminal gangs.”

What’s actually going on behind the official statements and media releases? It’s genuinely hard to know. Jordan doesn’t have a free and enquiring media and much of what emanates from official sources is spin. A Jordan Times article yesterday shows (probably inadvertently) how that works:

Spokesperson of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs Sami Mahasneh told The Jordan Times over the phone that a meeting with the minister and heads of political parties had been concluded with “unanimous agreement upon the government’s media strategy”. He announced that a new platform dubbed “It’s Your Right to Know” is being developed by the government to issue around-the-clock news, which he said “will hopefully put an end to all false news and deal with sensitive ones in a delicate manner”…
Bayan Tal, senior advisor at the Jordan Media Institute, told The Jordan Times that this approach is “indeed noticeable” in the new Razzaz government. “There is a gap of trust between the government and the citizens when it comes to news. This is a result of the past governments’ way of dealing with the media and it is what leads citizens to often turn to rumours or unofficial news outlets for information, rather than the government’s press release, as proven by studies,” Tal said… The competition between news agencies should not push them to commit immoral and disgraceful acts just to get views, likes, and comments, as those are “not the values of a true journalist”… [Officials warn against false news ‘igniting national fear’“, Jordan Times, August 13, 2018]

We actually do have things to say about how the “values of a true journalist” operate in Jordan. See

and especially
Now seems like a perfect time for the Jordanians to show how firmly they oppose Islamist terror by handing high-profile Islamist terrorist and Jordanian media celebrity Ahlam Tamimi over to US law enforcement authorities as they are obliged to do under the 1995 Extradition Treaty between the two countries.

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