Rise of Local Salafist Jihadists Worries Jordan's Government
By: Osama Al Sharif for Al-Monitor Posted on July 3.
For decades the main political rival to the Jordanian regime was, and
remains to some extent, the Islamist movement represented by the Muslim
Brotherhood. The role of the Brotherhood as a major opponent has been
amplified in the past two years after the eruption of the Arab Spring.
About This Article
For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood has been the Jordanian government's main
political rival. But a new player has emerged to fret the Hashemite regime:
homegrown Salafist jihadists.
Author: Osama Al Sharif
Posted on: July 3 2013
Categories : Originals Jordan Security Syria
Defined as a moderate Islamist social organization whose aim is to reform
society gradually through peaceful means, the Brotherhood has managed to
coexist with the Hashemite regime in Jordan, which provided their members
with a safe haven during the tumultuous years of the 1950s and '60s.
But now a relative newcomer to the scene is beginning to flex its muscles.
It is the Salafist movement, which has evolved over the past few decades,
since the mid-1980s, from a docile and reformist Sunni group calling for
strict interpretation of the Quran and rejection of modern innovations that
corrupt pure Islamic thought, into a more radicalized form, commonly known
as Salafist jihadists, with absolute commitment to holy war, especially
against the United States, Zionism and infidel regimes.
The conservative reformist group, which has traditionally accepted the
authority of the state, still exists but has been overtaken by the more
Jordan has battled Salafist jihadists before. The most famous follower of
Osama bin Laden was Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, who declared responsibility
for the fatal bombings of Amman hotels in 2005. He was later hunted down and
killed in Iraq by a joint Jordanian-US commando operation. His spiritual
mentor, Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi, is a Jordanian of Palestinian origin and is
considered one of the most influential proponents of Salafist jihadism. He
has been imprisoned by the Jordanian authorities on numerous occasions.
Today this radical movement is gaining ground, especially in Maan and Zerqa.
While core followers may not exceed 5,000, there are recent signs that more
young men are joining the group, especially after it had declared jihad
against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. No less than 500 Jordanian
jihadists are fighting alongside radical Islamist groups such as the
al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra.
A recent report in Khaberni daily suggested that more young Jordanians, some
from affluent families, are joining the Salafist jihadist movement. A
spokesman for the movement, Mohammad Shalabi, aka Abu Sayyaf, told the
newspaper that people are recruited in prisons or through personal contacts
and that as a result of the so-called Arab Spring more people became
interested in the goals and aspirations of the movement "which is the only
one that practices jihad against the Americans and the Zionists."
Researcher Hassan Abu Haniyeh said that we are now seeing the third
generation of Salafist jihadists who are educated and belong to affluent
families. Last week a Jordanian air force officer was reported to have
joined Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
Another expert, Mohammad Abu Rumman, wrote recently that during the last two
years the Salafists have made an important transition by ending their
boycott of the political process and deciding to join "the democratic game"
as they had done in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. But he adds that this does not
mean that they accept democracy as a political system.
The fear is centered on the repercussions of the involvement of Jordanian
jihadists in Syria on Jordan in the future. A February report in the Jordan
Times said Syrian Salafist jihadists have formed divisions to carry out
military acts in neighboring states such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
While leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra are concerned about the agenda that foreign
volunteers may bring with them, British Sky News quoted leaders of Jabhat
al-Haq - one of several Salafist jihadist groups fighting in Aleppo, as
stating that Islamist militants' holy war will "stretch from North Africa to
the Middle East," encompassing Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel/Palestine.
But Abu Sayyaf was quick to announce, "There is no jihad in Jordan, there
are no plans for jihad in Jordan and any talk of military acts in
neighboring states is nothing but Syrian-Zionist propaganda."
It would not be the first time that jihadists returning from foreign lands
to Jordan would engage in terrorism in the name of Islam. In the 1980s,
so-called Arab Afghans, including Jordanians, returning from Afghanistan,
tried to destabilize the country and were involved in terrorist attacks.
That Jordan has the largest number of jihadists fighting alongside the
Syrian opposition is a cause for worry. Once these young men return there
are no guarantees that they would not want to carry out their jihad against
the regime. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, the more extreme Salafist
jihadists, like Maqdisi, regard the majority of Arab regimes, including
Saudi Arabia, as infidels.
With sectarian confrontations between Sunnis and Shiites raging on in Syria,
Iraq and Lebanon, more young zealots in Jordan will find refuge in Salafist
jihadist dogma. In their view, it is this movement that best represents the
answer to possible Shiite domination of the region. Last year, Jordanian
Salafist scholar Abu Mohammad al-Tahawi issued a fatwa, or religious edict,
calling for jihad in Syria. In his view, the current alliance between the
ruling Alawite regime in Syria and the Shiites "is more threatening to the
Sunnis than Israeli threats."
As the influence of the Brotherhood recedes, especially after recent events
in Egypt, the role of Salafist jihadists will increase in the region. Jordan
will soon find itself in the epicenter of this emerging phenomenon.
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