‘Jordan playing with fire by backing extremists opposed to Islamic State’

Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag in Iraq  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag in Iraq
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordan is playing a risky game by seeking to support radical Salafi clerics in order to counter the threat from Islamic State, according to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“This strategy may reduce the appeal of the Islamic State in the short term, but it could also increase the threat of radicalism in Jordan,” said Ala’ Alrababa’h, an Amman native and a junior fellow at the think tank’s Middle East program.
Asked about Jordan’s overall stability, Alrababa’h told The Jerusalem Post that the Jordanian government is not at risk of collapsing, but that terrorist attacks such as bombings are more likely.
Jordan released two important Salafi jihadi clerics linked to al-Qaida from prison – both of whom have declared their opposition to Islamic State; Salafi leader Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – who has come out against Islamic State, but supports al-Qaida – and Abu Qatada al-Filistini, a radical cleric who was extradited from Britain last year and refuses to recognize the terrorist group.
Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has urged jihadist factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance to it, in a direct challenge to regional leaders and to the central leadership of al-Qaida, which has disowned it.
Abu Qatada was released in September and Maqdisi in June.
“Sure enough,” said Alrababa’h, “Jordan’s strategy soon backfired.”
“In early September, Maqdisi defended the Islamic State when a Saudi cleric declared that the group had broken away from Islam. Maqdisi asserted that despite the group’s faults, he had never criticized the Islamic State for ‘fighting tyrants, Rafida [rejectors], or Nusayri (a derogatory term for Alawites), for establishing an Islamic state or for declaring the caliphate.’” Then, in late September, Maqdisi said, “the crusade against Islam and Muslims in Syria and Iraq has begun with the support of the apostates.”
“He claimed that today’s events have exposed the ‘tyrants, their regimes, and their apostate armies,’ presumably referring to the Sunni Muslim states that are participating in the anti–Islamic State coalition, including Jordan,” Alrababa’h said in the report.
Maqdisi’s statement led Jordanian authorities to rearrest him.
Alrababa’h said that there are rumors in Jordan that Qatada also could be rearrested soon despite the fact that he has increased his criticism of Islamic State recently, “but Al-Maqdisi and other Salafist clerics have asked him to cease his criticism.”
If Qatada follows Maqdisi’s advice, then “we should expect his arrest,” he said.
“Most disturbing,” he said, “is the government’s tacit toleration of radical clerics.”
“Allowing people like Maqdisi and Abu Qatada to recruit supporters for their violent ideology may seem like an easy way to divide jihadi ranks, but such a strategy can easily backfire and it may aggravate the extremism problem in Jordan for decades to come,” he said.
Last week, the Jordanian government charged a top member of the Muslim Brotherhood with “souring ties with a foreign country” by criticizing the UAE after it designated his group as a terrorist organization.
The arrest of Zaki Bani Rushaid, initially held for 15 days pending investigation over charges that carry a minimum prison term of three years, is the first such detention of a senior opposition politician in Jordan in recent years.
Some politicians said privately the arrest was made under pressure from the Gulf state.
Jordan, which is part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, and which is troubled by an large influx of Syrian refugees to its north, is increasingly worried about the threat from domestic Islamist groups.
Jordan has enacted several measures to counter such threats, Alrababa’h noted. King Abdullah’s regime has tightened security along its northern border, used its air force to attack forces approaching its territory from Syria, permitted US forces to operate in the area, arrested potential terrorist supporters, and increased its control over mosque sermons.
Reuters contributed to this report.