Country Report on Terrorism 2009 - Chapter 2 - Jordan

Through both its public statements and its actions, the Jordanian Government demonstrated a solid commitment to countering terrorist groups and extremist ideologies. The Jordanian government continued its political and material support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for PA President Mahmoud Abbas. King Abdullah II routinely expresses backing for the peace process and for a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute. Jordan has facilitated the regional peace process by training five battalion-sized elements of the Palestine Security Forces at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) outside of Amman, including two such training rotations in 2009. These Palestinian forces have since deployed throughout the West Bank, where their motivation and professionalism have earned praise from the different regional parties.

In late 2008, Jordan discontinued a short-lived and abortive attempt to engage HAMAS, which had begun a few months earlier. Although the government’s relationship with HAMAS is cool, the organization continued to garner some popular support, particularly in the aftermath of the Israeli-conducted Operation Cast Lead from December 2008 to January 2009. Numerous street demonstrations took place throughout Jordan in protest of the Israeli operation. Although the King permitted HAMAS leader Khaled Meshal into the country briefly in the fall of 2009 to attend the funeral of Meshal’s father, Jordanian security remained vigilant against any effort to establish cells or use Jordanian territory as a base of operations against Israel.

Jordan placed a strong emphasis upon countering violent extremism, fighting radicalization, and strengthening interfaith coexistence and dialogue. Building upon the foundations of the 2005 Amman Message, Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II, strongly condemned extremist violence and the ideology that promotes it. The Royal Aal-al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought under the leadership of Prince Ghazi bin-Talal continued its sponsorship of the “Common Word” series of ecumenical and interfaith conferences and lectures in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. The “Common Word” program began as a response to the controversy caused by Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 address in Regensburg. In May 2009, Jordan hosted a successful papal visit. Jordanian government officials and media routinely reinforce the importance of interfaith dialogue and tolerance.

At the same time the government undertook concrete measures to address the threat of extremist ideology in the country. Recognizing the key role that incarceration has played in the radicalization of many terrorists (including the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), Jordanian authorities continued their 2008 program of theological engagement of suspected takfiris and other radical inmates. This program employs carefully selected and vetted religious scholars and jurists to introduce or reinforce more balanced and moderate views, based upon established Islamic jurisprudence and teachings. In the summer of 2009, Jordanian correctional authorities introduced a classification system for prisoners that allowed authorities to more readily identify and segregate adherents of violent extremist ideologies.

Jordan’s security forces continued programs to prevent terrorist attacks in the country and to deny terrorists the use of its territory to launch attacks against its neighbors. For example, the first phase of the Joint Border Security Program (JBSP) was completed in September, including the installation of a suite of monitoring and communications equipment along a 50km stretch of Jordan’s border with Syria. This border area has historically presented the highest risk of illicit infiltration and smuggling across Jordan’s border and it accounted for the greatest number of interdictions by Jordanian law enforcement. The completion of this portion of the JSBP program significantly enhanced Jordan’s detection capabilities and allows Jordan to respond to incidents more quickly.

In August, Jordan, with U.S. government support, hosted a conference establishing the Regional Biometric Partnership Initiative, bringing together law enforcement, security, and forensic experts from twelve Middle Eastern countries. Jordan presented a tailored biometric software package and proposed the creation of a regional biometric database for known and suspected terrorists in the region to allow the efficient sharing of data between governments. The proposal won an endorsement in principal from other participants and could potentially do much to thwart terrorist travel. Jordan welcomed U.S. training and assistance designed to strengthen security at its ports of entry.

Jordan’s security services remained intensely engaged against domestic terrorist threats. As a result of their vigilance, several planned attacks were disrupted prior to execution. The State Security Court (SSC) has primary jurisdiction for terrorism cases and it maintained a substantial caseload during the year. For example:

  • In March, three Jordanians were convicted and sentenced to 22 years each for plotting a suicide car bombing against a Roman Catholic Church in Marka. The plotters had originally wanted to strike police facilities but shifted their focus to a Christian target after their surveillances revealed the difficulty of attacking the police.
  •  In April, four men were arrested and charged with plotting attacks in Israel in retaliation for the Israeli incursion into Gaza. The men were reportedly in possession of firearms at the time of their apprehension. The alleged leader of the cell, Usama Abu Kabir, had been released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay in November 2007.
  • In April, the SSC sentenced three men to five years’ imprisonment for plotting and preparing attacks against Israeli targets on behalf of HAMAS. Potential targets included the Israeli Embassy in Amman and border posts in Jordan Valley.
  • In October, the SSC imposed sentences of 15 to 20 years each on twelve Jordanian al-Qa’ida (AQ) sympathizers for attempting to attack a Christian church in the northern city of Irbid, as well as a Christian cemetery in the same city. This group was also reportedly affiliated with an individual who fired upon a visiting Lebanese Christian choir in Amman in 2008.

In November, the Court of Cassation reduced the sentence of Muamar Yusef al-Jaghbir to 15 years for his role in the 2002 assassination of USAID Officer Thomas Foley. Al Jaghbir was convicted of playing a secondary role in the killing, and had been previously convicted and sentenced to death in July in the SSC, but the Court of Cassation reviewed the case and reduced the sentence on appeal. He was also credited with the six years al-Jaghbir had already served in U.S. or Jordanian custody following his 2003 apprehension in Iraq. This ruling, however, is unlikely to result in al-Jaghbir’s release in the future: he is also awaiting execution for his role in the August 2003 car bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad that killed at least 14 people.

Despite the government’s determination to battle radicalization, however, extremist messages still found a receptive audience with a small but significant proportion of the total population. According to polling data compiled by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes survey for 2009, the percentage of Jordanians expressing “confidence” in Usama bin Ladin crept upwards to 28 percent in 2009 from 19 percent in 2008. According to (affiliated with the University of Maryland) roughly 27% of Jordanians stated that they had “positive” feelings toward bin Ladin, and another 27% expressed mixed feelings toward him.

Although there were no successful AQ attacks in Jordan itself in 2009, a Jordanian national, Hammam al-Balawi, carried out a December 30 suicide attack in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven U.S. government employees, as well as one member of the Jordanian security forces.

Jordan’s financial sector remained vulnerable to money-laundering and terrorist finance. Jordan has an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) law and in 2008, the Jordanian Securities Commission Board of Commissioners issued AML regulations for securities activities, a positive step toward defining obligated entities falling under the regulatory purview of the Commission.

Furthermore, Jordan began steps to implement a cross-border currency declaration form. Despite these measures, however, a Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) review identified deficiencies in 14 of 16 core and key FATF recommendations for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.