King Abdullah of Jordan vowed that his country would seek justice against all those accountable for undermining the security of the kingdom after four government officers were killed in last weekend’s shoot-out.
It all began on Friday when terrorists detonated a homemade device planted under a police van parked near a music festival in the predominantly Christian town of Fuheis, just west of the capital Amman. The blast—which no group has claimed responsibility for—killed one policeman and injured six others.
Jordanian authorities organized a massive security operation the following day. Evidence led them to the hillside city of Al Salt, about 15 minutes from Fuheis. Security forces zeroed in on a multi-story building in a busy residential quarter of the city where they believed the attackers were holed up.
When security personal attempted to storm the complex on Saturday night, the suspects opened fire and set off powerful explosives, Jordanian officials confirmed. The explosives, one of which was possibly a blast from a suicide bomber, caused the collapse of one side of the building.
A hail of bullets exchanged between the suspects and security personnel injured at least 20 people in the area, including women and children who were taken to a hospital in Amman, a medical source confirmed.
When the smoke cleared, security forces pulled the bodies of three suspected terrorists from the wreckage, and arrested five others in the building. They did not provide details about their affiliations or motives, although some security officials have suggested the suspects were from Iraq and Syria and infiltrated the kingdom as part of an Islamic State-affiliated sleeper cell.
The Hala Akhbar news website, a source linked to Jordan’s army, contradicted that account, claiming that the suspects are all Jordanians who were planning to attack security installations and other sensitive targets. The site added that they were heavily armed with explosives, grenades and other weapons.
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The raid resulted in the deaths of at least four security personnel, Jordanian officials confirmed, making it one of the deadliest incidents between suspected terrorists and Jordanian security forces in recent years.
On Sunday, King Abdullah declared that the perpetrators would pay dearly for their “cowardly act of terrorism," adding that the country “will fight the Khawarij (‘outlaws of Islam’) and strike at them without mercy and with all strength and determination.”
The whole episode raises new concerns about the ability of terrorists to wreak havoc in the pro-Western kingdom. Abdullah has been vocal on the issue, repeatedly warning regional governments of the threat posed by radical groups. Jordan also has participated in numerous international counter-terrorism operations against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
Yet the country has experienced these kinds of attacks before. In 2016, terrorists were able to cross into Jordan from Syria with a car filled with explosives. Once in Jordan, they detonated the bombs, killing seven Jordanian border guards. Earlier that year, several security personnel were killed during a gunfight with suspected terrorists at a crusader castle in the southern town of Karak.
In addition to thwarting countless plots, the kingdom has cracked down on terrorist activity, imposing lengthy prison terms for even suspected sympathizers, as well as for those expressing support for radical Islamic ideology on social media.
Jordan has emerged from the region’s civil wars, uprisings, and Islamist insurgencies relatively unscathed.
But other factors may be creating a fertile ground for terrorist activities and recruitment. Many young Jordanians, for instance, have expressed a sense of hopelessness, fueled by high youth unemployment.
Government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat told the Media Line that Jordan is not the exception, as many countries in the region and around the world have been battling radical Islamist activities for years. “Jordan has excellent intelligence as well as military and security experience to deal with such terrorist cells," she asserted.
“The operation in Al Salt put an end to this cell’s terrorist plans. Its members were arrested and large amounts of explosives that it kept in different areas have been confiscated.”
Saleh al-Armouti, a Jordanian parliamentarian, told The Media Line that the recent terrorist incident “is considered a new phenomenon as it clashes with logic and law. It is also inconsistent with Jordan’s culture of magnanimity."
He explained that the country borders both Iraq and Syria, major terrorist hubs. He added that Amman is “facing huge political pressures and difficult circumstances involving many Syrian refugees."
Majed Toubeh, a Jordanian political analyst, told The Media Line that terrorist attacks in the kingdom have been less frequent than in years past.
“The terrorists in this case are Jordanian citizens, but they were likely manipulated by ISIS or other terrorist groups operating outside of the country,” Toubeh said.
He stressed that many Jordanians are working hard to improve the country’s economy and reform its political system, despite the refugee problem and the heated conflicts on Jordan’s borders.
“It is natural that to some extent we will be affected by all of these problems.”
Toubeh concluded that as ISIS sees its influence wane, the terrorist group will continue to carry out targeted attacks via cells located outside of its strongholds.
Read more stories like this at The Media Line.
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