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Perspectives on the Recent Attacks in Jordan

Perspectives on the Recent Attacks in Jordan

By Tarek Cherkaoui

Tarek Cherkaoui is an academic specializing on North African affairs. He is a regular contributor to Scoop Media.


Suicide bombings again broke the news yesterday. This time the targets consist of hotels in the Jordanian capital Amman. 67 people were killed and over 100 were injured. Soon afterwards Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed on the Internet its responsibility for the bombings.

Al Qaeda is no stranger to Jordan. It has been operating there for a long time. It is perhaps important to remember that Al Qaeda’s ideology owes a lot to Jordanian theorists and rhetoricians such as Abu Muhammed Al Makdisi, a prolific writer and provocateur against the Middle Eastern regimes, and Abu Katada, the firebrand preacher recently expelled from Britain, who are today the guests of the Jordanian secret police. Moreover, one of the most mediatized of Al Qaeda’s operatives, namely Abu Musab Al Zarkawi, is himself a Jordanian, and is believed to have a real interest in settling old scores with the Jordanian regime. Interestingly enough, a few hours before the blasts 15 militants allegedly associated with Al Qaeda were receiving harsh sentences before Amman’s military court. Avenging those could constitute a genuine motive to carry out these attacks.

The determination of Al Qaeda to include the Jordanian Kingdom in its agenda was shown in previous attacks. In 2002 a CIA operative was killed in Amman, while earlier in 2005 missiles targeted and narrowly missed American warships in the Jordanian port of Akaba. This resolve is matched by the Jordanian intelligence, one of the most renowned agencies in the Middle East, which is involved in all kinds of overt and covert operations against Al Qaeda. Indeed the Jordanian security agencies not only struck multiple blows to that organization, but are on the forefront of the 'war on terror' as they demonstrated through hosting some of the CIA’s secret prisons. Thus, targeting Jordan is possibly aimed at sending a message that the strategic alliance with the United States and Israel will not prevent attacks on Jordanian soil.

The Jordanian foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq is also believed to have triggered these violent attacks. The Hachemite Monarchy in Jordan was for a long time the ally of Saddam Hussein and was seen with a lot of skepticism by the Iraqi opposition especially the pro- Iranian Shiite parties. Exacerbating the situation even further, the King, Abdullah of Jordan, made remarks that were perceived as offensive by the actual power in Iraq, mainly because it linked the actual tenors of the Iraqi politics to the Iranian attempts to change the strategic posture in the Middle East. In those remarks the Jordanian King voiced his concern towards the establishment of a so-called Shiite crescent that will stretch from Iran, Shiite-controlled Iraq, Syria (the Alaouite sect in power is a Shiite offshoot) and Lebanon though the Hezbollah. This Shiite crescent would, in King Abdullah’s eyes, endanger the current balance of power in the whole Arab world.

Subsequent to these comments, unfavorable demonstrations and media campaigns against King Abdullah in Iraq in addition to American pressures obliged the Jordanian authorities to soften their stance and show more predispositions to assist the actual leaders of Iraq. This new stance, on the other hand, offended their traditional Iraqi Sunni allies that have so far failed to regain a better position in the Iraqi political arena. Thus, the recent attacks could also be interpreted as an attempt to interfere in the recent developments in the bilateral relations between the Shiite-backed Iraqi authorities and the Jordanian regime.

On a strategic level, it is a matter of fact that Al Qaeda has shown in the recent years a constant interest in reaching the perimeter surrounding Israel. The huge bombings that rocked hotels and other tourist infrastructure in Taba (Egypt) on October 24th, Sharm Al-Sheikh (Egypt) on July 23rd and the Attacks of Akaba (Jordan) on August 19th show a pattern of pushing the line of confrontation to the frontiers of Israel. The reason behind this strategy is to pose as a champion of the Palestinian cause and gain more hearts and minds in the Arab World.

The Bombings of Amman will seriously undermine the Jordanian economy as it extensively relies on tourism and foreign investment. Moreover, in terms of security, these attacks have shattered a long time perception that Jordan is among the safest countries in the region. This feeling will be certainly aggravated if the investigations determine that the perpetrators were local people and not coming from neighboring Iraq as on previous occasions.


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