Assessing Trends in the Terrorist Threats Against
and Its Counterterrorism Measures
By Dr. Joshua Sinai
As of late 2018, Jordan faced significant terrorist threats,
primarily from Islamic State-linked militants, whether domestic-
or foreign-based, who regarded the moderate and pro-Western
Hashemite Kingdom as illegitimate. This threat was exacerbated
by the spillover from the protracted civil war in Syria, whose
massive internal population displacement led to an influx of
estimated 1.4 million Sunni Syrian refugees into Jordan, which
has an estimated population of 9.9 million. Many of the Syrian
refugees were housed in the temporary Zaatari camp, with others
scattered around the country, with little prospect for their
future, and with a minority of them jihadi militants who were
exploiting their safe haven to prepare for future terrorist
activities in the country.
Additional sources of terrorist militancy sprung from the country’s
estimated 2.2 million Palestinians (with an estimated 370,000
living in 10 refugee camps), with a minority adherents of Salafi
Jihadism or the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB), which was
also affiliated with the Palestinian Hamas. This Jordanian branch
of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood also represented a significant
anti-regime movement. Both the Salafi Jihadists and the JMB regarded
the Hashemite monarchy, which had led the country since independence
in May 1946, as politically and religiously illegitimate. As an
example of Palestinian opposition to the Hashemite Kingdom, the
country’s first ruler, King Abdullah, was assassination
by a Palestinian militant in East Jerusalem on July 20, 1951.
In a more recent example of extremist anti-Hashemite sentiments,
the Salafist-Jihadists joined the JMB-led anti-government demonstrations
in March 2012, where they called for the imposition of Shari’a
law upon Jordanian society.
Against this background, this article discusses the terrorist
threats against Jordan since 2000, focusing primarily on the current
period, and the effectiveness of the government’s counterterrorism
program’s response measures, which are supported by its
close cooperation with neighboring countries such as Israel, as
well as the United States. The conclusion will assess future trends
in the terrorist threats facing the country.
The primary terrorist threats against Jordan consisted of Salafist Jihadists
in the form of al Qaida, and its affiliate, al Qaida in Iraq (AQI), which
had split from al Qaida Central under its previous leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
and eventually became the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014. Other militant
opposition groups included the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB). It should
be noted that Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, constituted
a potential terrorist threat to Jordan, because many of its operatives and
leaders were Jordanian Salafists, so their attempt to return to Jordan following
their expected defeat in Syria was likely to turn them against the Hashemite
regime. Finally, Palestinian terrorist groups were active in Jordan in the
1970s and 1980s, but their attacks against the Hashemite monarchy ceased
following the Palestinian Authority’s signing of the Oslo Accords with
Israel in the mid-1990s.
The primary threat facing Jordan was Salafi Jihadism, which was
previously linked to al Qaida Central and then became part of
the Syrian/Iraqi-based Islamic State (IS). The threat was both
group-oriented and lone wolf, especially with the IS losing
much of the territory it had previously controlled in Iraq and
Syria and its terrorist operations becoming more decentralized.
Jordan’s Salafist Jihadists viewed themselves as the successors
of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-Palestinian-born leader
of al Qaida in Iraq (AQI), who was killed by American forces
in Iraq on June 7, 2006. Interestingly, because this group of
Salafi Jihadists, estimated to number 6,000 to 7,000 in 2018,
were largely suppressed by Jordan’s counterterrorism services,
much of the operations by their Jordanian operatives took place
in Iraq and Syria where an estimated (and unconfirmed) 2,500
Jordanians constituted some of the forces fighting with the
al Qaida-linked terrorist groups in Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra
Front, as well as the IS forces in those countries. Moreover,
several Jordanians had become leaders of these groups, such
as Jabhat al-Nusra, which was rebranded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham
in 2016. It was reported that a majority of Jordanians had since
then switched their support to the Islamic State (IS).
Starting in the early 2000s, al Qaida via al Qaida in Iraq (AQI),
its affiliate at the time, had also focused their terrorist
operations against the Jordanian monarchy, which they viewed
as part of their “near enemy.” This changed in June
2014 when AQI transformed itself into the Islamic State (IS).
January 1, 2000: A series
of terrorist attacks linked to al Qaida were
foiled against four tourist sites in Jordan within the context
of the millennium celebrations.
April 26, 2004: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi planned a spectacular “suicide
chemical attack” by explosive-laden trucks and cars against
the U.S. Embassy, the Jordanian prime minister's office and the
headquarters of the Mukhabarat (Jordanian intelligence) headquarters
November 9, 2005: An al Qaida in Iraq team carried out a simultaneous
suicide bombing at the lobbies of three Amman hotels (Grand Hyatt,
Radisson SAS, and Days Inn), killing 60 people and wounding over
100, many of whom were part of a wedding party at the Radisson
December 30, 2009: Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian jihadist turned
on his Jordanian GID officer handler and detonated his suicide
belt inside a CIA outpost at Camp Chapman near Khost, Afghanistan,
killing several CIA officers. Prior to the attack, the Jordanian
GID believed that Balawi was acting as a double agent against
al Qaida, which provided him access to the CIA camp.
October 21, 2012: The Jordanian security services foiled a plot
by eleven members of an al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) group to carry
out near-simultaneous attacks on multiple civilian and government
targets in Amman, including the U.S. Embassy in the capital.
Islamic State (IS)
October 2012: Eight jihadist terrorists engaged in clashes with
Jordanian soldiers manning the border with Syria, killing a Jordanian
soldier. Seven of the terrorists were arrested, with the eighth
January 3, 2015: The IS executed Moath al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian
pilot it had captured on December 24, 2014 when his F-16 aircraft
crashed over Syria.
Attack on Amman Police Training Center
November 9, 2015: Police Captain Anwar Abu Zaid, aged 28, who
had become radicalized into jihadist extremism, killed two American
security contractors, a South African security contractor, and
two Jordanians at the Jordan International Police Training Center
near Amman. Four Jordanians, two Americans, and one Lebanese
citizen were also wounded. Jordanian security forces shot and
killed Zaid, who worked as a trainer at the center.
November 4, 2016: Corporal Marik al-Tuwayha, who was guarding
the entrance to King Faisal Air Base, a Jordanian air force installation
near Al-Jafr, carried out a shooting attack against U.S.
Army Special Forces trainers stationed there, killing three of
them. The Jordanian government indicted the guard with murder
and sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor in July 2017.
December 18, 2016: Jordanian jihadists carried out a shooting
attack at the Crusader-era al-Karak Castle, in southern Jordan,
which is popular with foreign tourists. In the incident, a Canadian
tourist and two Jordanians were killed, with 34 others wounded.
February 27, 2018: An IS terrorist cell was arrested for planning
to attack Israeli businessmen, the U.S. embassy, and other Western
and Jordanian targets in Amman
August 2, 2018: The Jordanian Army killed several Islamic State
group jihadists who tried to approach its northern border with
Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB)
Although Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood (JMB) had not engaged
in terrorism, its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF),
opposed the government and boycotted the country’s parliamentary
elections. As an example of its militancy, when al-Zarqawi was
killed in 2006 the JMB declared him a shaheed (martyr), which
greatly concerned the Jordanian authorities. During the current
period, with Jordan allied with Egypt and Israel, the IAF had
engaged in street demonstrations in support of its Egyptian counterpart,
which was overthrown in early July 2013, declaring that "The
fate of Egypt and all Arabs and Muslims will be determined in
line with your action. Do not let the coupists, the Zionists and
US administration win."
About the Author
Dr. Joshua Sinai is a senior
analyst in terrorism and counterterrorism studies at Kiernan Group
Holdings (KGH), in Alexandria, VA.
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