Amman’s concerns over the rise of Salafist-Jihadist extremism grew on Monday, after a Jordanian soldier was killed in clashes with eight armed militants illegally attempting to cross the border with Syria.
According to an official Jordanian Armed Forces source, Cpl. Muhammad Abdullah Manaseer al-Abbadi was killed Sunday night by members of Takfiri – a Salafist movement that condones acts of violence including suicide bombing, as a legitimate way to achieve political goals.
“Another armed Takfiri group using Kalashnikov rifles and guns tried to cross the border at midnight local time and clashed with the Jordanian forces but all of the group was arrested and one of them was critically injured,” according to Jordan’s Petra News Agency.
Jordan’s Information and Culture Minister Samih Maaytah said Abbadi’s death was the first in the ranks of the Jordanian army since the Syrian conflict began last March.
The news came just hours after authorities in the Hashemite Kingdom revealed they had foiled a major terror plot by a Salafist-Jihadist group linked to al-Qaida.
On Sunday night, Jordan’s General Intelligence Department said the authorities had arrested 11 locals with “clear ties to al-Qaida” on charges of plotting suicide bombings in shopping centers in Amman. The group then planned to target Western diplomats in a main assault in the city’s wealthy Abdoun district.
The 11 men were linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, the group which claimed responsibility for the deadly bombings of three hotels in Amman in 2005, security sources said.
The arrested men had consulted with al-Qaida bomb experts in Iraq before traveling to Syria and returning to Jordan with explosives and mortars, according to Petra News.
Radical Salafist cleric Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi accused security forces of fabricating the terror plot as part of an ongoing crackdown on the Salafist movement, the Jordanian daily Assabeel reported.
Following the 2005 Amman bombings, Jordan cracked down on the Salafist-Jihadist current that returned to the fore during the Arab Spring protests. Members of the movement took to the streets last March during pro-reform demonstrations, when they called for the imposition of Shari’a law.
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Jordan has been concerned about spillover violence, as Salafist groups made several calls for Muslims to wage jihad against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime.
Tahawi, who released a fatwa in June calling on Jordanians to wage jihad in Syria, has also spoken out in praise of the al- Qaida linked Jabhat al-Nusra terror group which has carried out several suicide attacks in Syria.
On Saturday, Tahawi announced that 250 Jordanian jihadists had joined the fight against Assad. According to the Arabic-language Jordan Zad news site, a source within the Salafist movement said that some of the Jordanian jihadists have assumed leading roles around Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa and Edlib.
In response, Amman has boosted security along the Syrian border in an attempt to prevent Salafist-Jihadist fighters crossing over, local security officials said last week.
As part of its new security campaign, the government has arrested a number of men it alleges have funded Salafist fighters entering Syria, the Jordan Times reported.
Last week, authorities detained two relatives of a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – as they attempted to return to Jordan after fighting Assad’s forces in Syria.
Zayed Sweiti and Firas al-Khalaylah are cousins of Zarqawi – who died in a targeted killing at the hands of the US Air Force in Iraq in June 2006.
They were arrested along with a third Jordanian jihadist named as Muhammad Najmi.
Most of Jordan’s jihadists consider themselves the inheritors of Zarqawi’s legacy, a recent report by the Jamestown Foundation found.
Dr. Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Herzliya, and an expert in the ideology and operational codes of Islamic fundamentalist movements, told The Jerusalem Post that Jordanian jihadist trends pose a threat to the Hashemite kingdom’s stability, which could in turn impact on Israeli security.
According to Bar, in recent years most of Jordan’s jihadist movements have shifted towards the country’s Palestinian constituency.
Both Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood – which Bar said is more radical than its Egyptian counterpart – and the Salafist movement, are groups dominated by Jordanians of Palestinian descent, including Zarqawi’s mentor, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, currently in prison for financing a terrorist group.
When the US killed Zarqawi, the Muslim Brotherhood declared him a shahid, or martyr – a move that angered the Jordanian authorities, Bar said.
He added that while the Jordanian government is currently successful at disrupting terror attacks, Amman foils about 100 terror plots every year. If Jordan becomes sufficiently destabilized, “there could be a danger to Israel,” Bar said.
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, its Egyptian counterpart, the Jordanian Salafist- Jihadist movement and Assad’s regime in Syria are all acting to destabilize Jordan, he said.
On Sunday Tahawi said his group had planned a terrorist attack against Israel, but the plot had failed.
The Palestinian terror group Hamas is also active in Jordan.
Last year, Israel indicted Palestinian Hamza Muhammad Yusuf Othman for establishing a covert Hamas paramilitary cell to attack Israeli targets in Jordan – including kidnapping Israeli civilians and diplomats in Amman and firing shells from Jordan into Israel.