AMMAN — Dozens of supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) rallied in Maan on Friday marking the upstart jihadist movement’s first public appearance in Jordan.
The jihadists gathered in the southern city, some 220km south of the capital, to celebrate ISIL’s recent military gains in Iraq, praising what they described as “victories for Islam”.
Raising the banners of ISIL, some 60 supporters marched in downtown Maan and chanted: “Today Iraq, tomorrow the caliphate” in reference to the group’s stated goal of re-establishing a greater Islamic state, eyewitnesses said.
Participants — the bulk of whom comprised young Jihadi Salafists and former ISIL fighters chanted: “The caliphate is coming to Jordan.”
The hard-line Jordanian Salafist movement — Al Qaeda’s unofficial affiliate in Jordan — quickly distanced itself from the rally, denouncing the gathering as the “actions of uneducated youths”.
“The organisers of this rally were misguided and do not represent the Salafist movement or any jihadist group,” said Mohammad Shalabi, or Abu Sayyaf, leader of the Jihadi Salafist movement in Jordan.
“There is no Islamic State in Jordan.”
According to Islamist sources, the rally was organised by the recently established Islamic State-Jordan, a loose gathering of some 200 current and former ISIL fighters devoted to “recruiting and raising support” for the group.
According to those close to the ISIL offshoot, the pre-planned rally is the first of a series of steps to “raise ISIL’s profile” in Jordan to rally support among Jordanians.
“We want to counter accusations and misinformation that the Islamic State is a foreign movement, or a movement that is being directed by the Assad regime or Iran,” said Abu Mohammad, an ISIL supporter.
“This march aims to show that we are a genuine, independent movement that has true support in Jordan.”
In an equally bold step, the offshoot chose Maan as the site for its first public rally — the heartland of Jordan’s jihadist movement and Al Qaeda’s ideological base in Jordan.
The rally comes amid a series of military victories for ISIL in Iraq, with the former Al Qaeda affiliate reportedly reaching the western town of Qaimi near the Iraqi-Syrian border on Saturday.
Al Qaeda and ISIL have been embroiled in a bitter rivalry over control of the global jihadist movement.
The two sides have been locked in a bloody civil war in Syria, where ISIL continues to battle for control over rebel-held areas with Jabhat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria — a conflict Islamist insiders fear may spill over onto Jordanian soil.