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Terrorist challenge

Dec 27,2016 - Last updated at Dec 27,2016

Despite the unusually heavy death toll, especially among the security personnel, that resulted from confrontations with terrorists, over two days, in the southern governorate of Karak last week, Jordanians demonstrated resilience, solidarity and defiance. 

Ten people, including civilians, were killed during a showdown with a four-member terrorist group that ended in their termination at the historic Karak castle on December 18.

Two days later, security forces killed two more and arrested at least two following a face-off with suspected terrorists who had barricaded themselves in a house in another Karak town. Four security personnel were also killed.

While details about the terrorists and their objectives remain sketchy, the tragic events underline the fact that Jordan’s war against radicalism and religious militancy has reached an important milestone.

Although Daesh later claimed that the four slain terrorists were acting on its behalf, it is not clear if the group, composed entirely of Jordanian nationals, was in fact directly associated with the terrorist organisation.

A cache of weapons, munitions and explosive vests was uncovered in the group’s hiding place. 

Later the authorities announced that an arms dealer, who is believed to have supplied the terrorist cell with weapons, was arrested.

Jordan’s war against religious extremists goes far back, to the late 1980s, when Jordanian jihadists, also called Arab Afghans, returned from Afghanistan following the end of the Soviet occupation.

Some tried to carry out terrorist attacks and the government responded with force.

More recently, authorities cracked down on Jordanians attempting to cross the borders with Syria to join radical jihadist groups, especially Al Nusra Front and Daesh.

It now appears that the four slain terrorists had been arrested for doing precisely that.

The Karak operation and the circumstances surrounding it raise a number of important issues. 

For starters, they point to the grim fact that Jordan now has a serious domestic terrorist challenge, and that while security forces are able to seal off the Kingdom’s borders with Syria and Iraq, preventing possible infiltration by terrorists into the Kingdom, the real threat is now home grown.

It focuses attention on the Salafist jihadist movement in the country, which has a small but committed number of followers.

And while the great majority of Jordanians rejects radical ideas and the use of religion as a tool to impose social and political change, there is a minority that has been influenced by such dogma and by the sectarian turmoil that engulfed the region in the past few years.

Furthermore, while tough security measures represent an immediate and effective response to any threat to the Kingdom’s stability, a sober approach to the phenomenon of religious radicalism requires the government to forge a medium- and long-term strategy to contain takfiri ideology and militancy.

This has become a regional and global challenge, one that faces many countries around the world.

The search for the root cause of this phenomenon must continue and the tools to confront it must be adopted forcefully and courageously.

The strategy should include carrying out plans to develop and reform the education system, regulating mosques and overhauling Sharia colleges. 

It also means that a responsible national dialogue must be allowed to take place at all levels in order to make the legitimate case for moderate Islam and the universal values of tolerance and acceptance of others.

In addition, Jordan should be ready to deal with hundreds of so-called jihadists returning to the Kingdom in the wake of the recent developments in Syria.

A programme to rehabilitate those who surrender themselves to the authorities must be adopted. 

Society itself must be vigilant and express intolerance towards those embracing takfiri ideology.

Dire economic conditions, which exacerbated the problems of youth unemployment and poverty, have a direct link to creating the environment that foments radicalism, isolationism and militancy.

In this particular area, Jordan needs the support of its allies, both in the region and the West.

While Salafist jihadist dogma may also appeal to well-to-do youths, the great majority of recruits come from underprivileged families. 

This is one outcome of the disintegration of the middle class in Jordan, a process that has been happening for over a decade.

And finally, the challenge of domestic terrorism cannot be separated from other worrying signs that Jordan has been witnessing in the past few years, such as societal violence, rise in crime rates, spread of unregistered weapons in civilian hands, and the overflow of tribal and other supplementary identities at the expense of the national identity, the concept of citizenship, and law and order.

Luckily, tragic events such as the Karak incident bring people together and provide an example of solidarity and support for the security forces.

But they also highlight the need to look deep into the evolution of the Jordanian society and how it has been affected by regional turmoil and internal economic and social challenges.

There is no doubt that Jordanians will be able to overcome the threat of domestic terrorism and that the country will deal effectively with the immediate challenge.

But what is needed is a close inspection of factors behind this phenomenon that is alien to the Jordanian culture, which underscores plurality, moderation and tolerance.



The writer is a journalist and political
commentator based in Amman.

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