Was the Shooting of Two Americans in Jordan Terrorism or Score-settling?

Analysis | Even if the Jordanian police training camp where 3 people were shot on Monday isn’t a direct ISIS target, the Hashemite kingdom is one.

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Jordan's King Abdullah, second from right, visiting one of the people injured in the shooting attack at a police training center on Monday.
Jordan's King Abdullah, second from right, visiting one of the people injured in the shooting attack at a police training center on Monday.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The Jordanian policeman who killed two Americans, one South African and two Jordanians at a training camp on Monday has embroiled the Hashemite kingdom in an embarrassing storm.

Preliminary investigations indicate that the perpetrator, a former officer in an investigations department who was sent to the camp, has no known ties to terrorist organizations. On the other hand, the incident, in which several others were injured, occurred on the 10th anniversary of Al-Qaida attacks on three hotels in Amman, which killed more than 60 people.

“It’s hard to ignore that connection – especially on a day in which newspapers in Jordan are mentioning the country’s determination to combat terrorism and its successes so far,” one Jordanian analyst told Haaretz. “I hope the investigation shows that this was a madman and not a deliberate attack by Al-Qaida or ISIS.”

At the same time, the trial in absentia of Omar Mahdi Zeidan – the Irbid resident who is known as “the ISIS mufti of Al-Raqqa,” also began in Jordan on Monday.

One could, perhaps, look for a link between the shooting attack and ISIS. For years this particular police camp has trained Iraqi fighters and Libyan and Yemeni rebels, as well as Syrian opposition forces. Three years ago there was a “revolt” by Libyan trainees who complained of the harsh conditions and the food there. They broke equipment and furniture, and threatened to hurt their instructors if they were not moved to luxurious hotels and chauffeured to camp. Since then there have been no incidents there.

ISIS has no reason to attack the camp since Jordan has since stopped training Syrian fighters there, mainly for lack of volunteers. This followed a U.S. admission that its ambitious program to train 3,000 Syrian rebels had failed. Al-Qaida does indeed have a score to settle with Jordan, but this attack was not its style.

Even if the shooting turns out to have been due to a dispute between instructors, it rattles the country's sense of security and its confidence in the amount of control that local security agencies – mainly military intelligence officials – wield over events.

Jordan is investing heavily in nipping any ISIS cells in the bud throughout the kingdom and has greatly restricted the number of entry permits for Syrian refugees. Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Thneibat conceded for the first time this week that relations with Syria were frozen. Border crossings are virtually non-operational, commerce has stopped and the ensuing economic damage is enormous.

Meanwhile, Jordan has reinforced its forces along the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Its planes make occasional sorties as part of the coalition against ISIS, coordinating its actions with Russian air command in Syria.

Jordan does have a “blood” score to settle with ISIS after it burned a downed pilot to death in February. Thus, even if this camp isn’t a direct ISIS target, the kingdom is one.

In June ISIS released a video calling on Jordanians to enlist, and a year ago it threatened to kill the king. In contrast, for some time now Syrian rebel websites have been reporting on the existence of an alleged special relationship between Jordan and Jabhat Al-Nusra, an Al-Qaida affiliate. These reports claim that the kingdom supported the radical militia in the Deraa region north of the Jordanian border. Thneibat refused to comment on these reports, clarifying that Jordan doesn’t support radical organizations “which rely on religion to undertake violent actions.”

It’s possible that ties with Jabhat Al-Nusra are meant as an insurance policy against attacks by Al-Qaida, and that is why it’s important to decipher the motives of the Jordanian police officer who shot the foreign trainees.

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