(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
AMMAN - Around 900 Jordanians are fighting for Islamic State and al-Qaeda-inspired groups in Syria and Iraq but recruitment numbers have fallen sharply to their lowest ever levels, a senior Jordanian official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Those now fighting in Iraq and Syria mostly left Jordan, a staunch US ally which borders the two countries, in the early years of the conflict between 2013 and 2014, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Numbers joining the ultra-hardline jihadist groups slumped in the last three years as an intelligence-led campaign helped Jordanian security forces nip plots in the bud and arrest radicalized youths who were planning to leave, he said.
Prison sentences for militants arrested before finding safe passage to Syria or for those who returned after short stints were stiffened in 2014 under amended anti-terror laws have acted as a powerful deterrent, he said.
Jordan's borders with Syria have been tightly sealed and the trickle who left since 2014 have mainly found safe passage through third countries, security sources say.
This strategy explains why far fewer fighters have come from Jordan than from other countries that do not share borders with Iraq and Syria, the official said.
"As a neighbor ... the (recruitment) figures should have been much higher under different circumstances," he added.
Jordan plays a prominent role in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, providing military, logistical and intelligence support, Western diplomats and regional intelligence sources say.