Archive for November 12, 2014

Osama Al Sharif

September 15, 2014

Jordan has joined the US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria despite Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour’s Sept. 6 statement that the kingdom was not part of any international alliance and would not participate in strikes against the terror organization.

While officials have not confirmed that Jordan was now part of a regional coalition to fight IS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Joudeh said during a Sept. 11 US-Arab ministerial meeting in Jeddah that the kingdom regards IS as a “direct and immediate threat to our national security.”

Ten Arab states, including Jordan, issued a joint communique at the end of the Jeddah meeting in which they said they will “do their share” to confront and ultimately destroy IS. No specific roles were outlined.

A day earlier, King Abdullah told US Secretary of State John Kerry, “Jordan supports regional and international radicalism-combating efforts in consistency with its unaltered belief in the serious and direct threat the terrorist organizations pose to the region’s and world’s security and stability.” The king was the only Arab leader to attend NATO’s summit in Wales on Sept. 5. During the summit, he also met with US President Barack Obama and presented “Jordan’s vision on regional challenges including the threat of terror.”

A US administration official told The New York Times Sept. 5 that Jordan brings special expertise to the new coalition, especially “intelligence about Sunni militants.” But Jordanian officials declined to comment on the nature of Jordan’s role in the coalition, especially on Israeli reports that the king and Kerry had discussed “the possibility of using Jordan as a base for the proposed coalition’s strikes against the Islamic State in neighboring Iraq and Syria.”

The possibility of Jordan joining a US-led coalition to fight IS has divided Jordanians, which explains the government’s hesitation to confirm that it is now a full-fledged member. The Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, issued a statement Sept. 10 criticizing Kerry’s visit to the kingdom and rejecting any role for Jordan in a Washington-led alliance to fight IS. It denounced “international pressures on the country to force it to become a party or a partner in a war that is not ours,” saying that it was “against plans for Jordanian bases to be used by soldiers who are part of an international coalition in the fight against terror.”

One former government minister, who asked not to be named, told Al-Monitor that joining the new coalition constituted a challenge for Jordan, adding, “On the one hand, the kingdom cannot afford to turn its back on its Arab and Western allies and has no option but to join in the fight against IS, and on the other it is weary of the possibility of becoming a target of Islamist extremists, especially when there are reports that thousands of Jordanian Salafist jihadists are fighting with the Islamic State.”

He added that Jordan can play an important role in supplying the coalition with valuable intelligence because of its special relations with Sunni tribes in western Iraq and southern Syria. Jordan had tipped off the United States on the whereabouts of former al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in 2006, which led to his termination.

But it is not only the Islamists who are against Jordan’s involvement in the fight against IS. On Sept. 3, 21 Lower House deputies signed a petition warning the government not to join any party against IS, adding, “Jordan has no interest in such a confrontation, especially as many in the region sympathize with IS.”

One of the signatories, parliament member Khalil Atiyeh, told Al-Monitor, “Jordan should not be fighting on behalf of others,” adding that the kingdom “is not divided like Iraq and Syria or infiltrated by terror groups … and we have an army that is capable of defending our borders.”

But there is division over this issue. Parliamentarian Jamal Al-Nimri, who supports Jordan’s involvement in a regional alliance, said IS does not pose a threat to Iraq and Syria alone, “but is a regional menace that has sympathizers in the kingdom.” He told Al-Monitor, “Unless the Islamic State is defeated in Iraq and Syria, its next target will be Jordan, and those who do not understand this fact are mistaken.”

But political commentator Fahd al-Khitan warned that unless the war on IS is accompanied by “a historic plan to solve the region’s endemic conflicts, things will only get worse.” He told Al-Monitor there are hopeful signs in Iraq for political reconciliation, but it is too early to say, and Syria has become “a fertile breeding ground for extremists.” But most of all, Khitan said, the region needs to resolve the Palestinian issue, “because one cannot contemplate a stable Middle East without lifting the injustice that has plagued the Palestinian people.”

Political analyst Orieb al-Rintawi supported Jordan’s efforts in fighting IS and extremism, but added, “The kingdom should be careful not to succumb to foreign agendas.” He told Al-Monitor that Jordan must keep in mind its long-term interests with Russia and stay in touch with Iran while maintaining its independent policy on Syria. “The new coalition should not become a pretext to bring moderate Arabs closer to Israel at the expense of others. This will only deepen the conflicts we face,” he said. Rintawi called on the government to be transparent with its citizens about its role in the new coalition.

In the past few days, the government has intensified its security campaign against Salafist jihadists who sympathize with IS. Mousa Abdel Latt, a lawyer who defends Islamists, told Al-Monitor that at least 60 individuals with clear ties to IS have been recently arrested “as a precaution in light of regional developments.” He said they have been detained under the anti-terror law for unlawful activities on the Internet. The Salafist movement in Jordan has been divided on the issue of IS, with key figures publicly condemning its recent atrocities.

Last month, King Abdullah reassured Jordanians that extremist groups do not pose an immediate threat to Jordan’s stability and security. He emphasized that Jordan’s major challenges are economic in nature. But the possible threat of IS has overshadowed public discourse, and now that Jordan is joining a US-led coalition to fight the terror group in Iraq and Syria, that discussion is turning into a heated debate.

Source: al-Monitor.


November 09, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — On a chilly night, bearded militants gathered at a stage strung with colorful lights in Darna, a Mediterranean coastal city long notorious as Libya’s center for jihadi radicals. With a roaring chant, they pledged their allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group.

With that meeting 10 days ago, the militants dragged Darna into becoming the first city outside of Iraq and Syria to join the “caliphate” announced by the extremist group. Already, the city has seen religious courts ordering killings in public, floggings of residents accused of violating Shariah law, as well as enforced segregation of male and female students. Opponents of the militants have gone into hiding or fled, terrorized by a string of slayings aimed at silencing them.

The takeover of the city, some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the nearest territory controlled by the Islamic State group, offers a revealing look into how the radical group is able to exploit local conditions. A new Islamic State “emir” now leads the city, identified as Mohammed Abdullah, a little-known Yemeni militant sent from Syria known by his nom de guerre Abu al-Baraa el-Azdi, according to several local activists and a former militant from Darna.

A number of leading Islamic State militants came to the city from Iraq and Syria earlier this year and over a few months united most of Darna’s multiple but long-divided extremist factions behind them. They paved the way by killing any rivals, including militants, according to local activists, former city council members and a former militant interviewed by The Associated Press. They all spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their lives.

Darna could be a model for the group to try to expand elsewhere. Notably, in Lebanon, army troops recently captured a number of militants believed to be planning to seize several villages in the north and proclaim them part of the “caliphate.” Around the region, a few militant groups have pledged allegiance to its leader, Iraqi militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But none hold cohesive territory like those in Darna do.

The vow of allegiance in Darna gives the Islamic State group a foothold in Libya, an oil-rich North African nation whose central government control has collapsed in the chaos since the 2011 ouster and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Extremists made Darna their stronghold in the 1980s and 1990s during an insurgency against Gadhafi, the city protected by the rugged terrain of the surrounding Green Mountain range in eastern Libya. Darna was the main source of Libyan jihadis and suicide bombers for the insurgency in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion. Entire brigades of Darna natives fight in Syria’s civil war.

This spring, a number of Libyan jihadis with the Islamic State group returned home to Darna. The returnees, known as the Battar Group, formed a new faction called the Shura Council for the Youth of Islam, which began rallying other local militants behind joining the Islamic State group. In September, al-Azdi arrived.

Many of Darna’s militants joined, though some didn’t. Part of Ansar al-Shariah, one of the country’s most powerful Islamic factions, joined while another part rejected it. The main militant group that refused was the Martyrs of Abu Salem Brigade, once the strongest force in Darna. The fundamentalist group sees itself as a nationalist Libyan force and calls for a democratically formed government, albeit one that must enforce stricter Shariah law.

For the past months, it has battled the al-Battar fighters and the Shura Council. Al-Battar accused the Abu Salem militia of killing one of its top commanders in June and threatened in a statement to “fill the land with (their) graves.”

Meanwhile, a militant campaign of killings in Darna targeted the liberal activists who once led sit-ins against them, as well as lawyers and judges. Militants also stormed polling stations, stopping voting in Darna during nationwide elections in March and June.

In July, a former liberal lawmaker in Darna, Farieha el-Berkawi, was gunned down in broad daylight. Her killing in particular chilled the anti-militant movement, said a close friend of el-Berkawi. “People had done their best (to force out militants) and got nothing but more bloodshed,” she told the AP.

Those who stayed tried to co-exist. Some submitted letters of “repentance” to the Islamic militias, denouncing their past work in the government. Militant group Facebook pages are dotted with letters of repentance submitted by a traffic police officer, a former militiaman and a former colonel in Gadhafi’s security apparatus.

With opposition silenced, militant factions first came together on Oct. 5 and decided to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi and form the Islamic State group’s “Barqa province,” using a traditional name for eastern Libya. After the gathering, more than 60 pickup trucks filled with fighters cruised through the city in a victory parade.

Last week, a second gathering in front of a Darna social club saw a larger array of factions make a more formal pledge of allegiance. Al-Azdi attended the event, according to the former militant. The militant himself did not attend but several of his close relatives who belong to Ansar al-Shariah did.

Now, government buildings in Darna are “Islamic State” offices, according to the activists. Cars carrying the logo of the “Islamic police” roam the city. Women increasingly wear ultraconservative face veils. Masked men have flogged young men caught drinking alcohol, a former city council member told the AP.

Militants have ordered that male and female students must be segregated at school, and history and geography were removed from the curriculum, according to two activists in the city. New “Islamic police” flyers order clothing stores to cover their mannequins and not display “scandalous women’s clothes that cause sedition.”

Opposition to the militants, already scattered, is under threat. During the extremists’ first meeting, a colleague recounted how Osama al-Mansouri, a lecturer at Darna’s Fine Arts college, stood up and asked the bearded men: “What do you want? What are you after?”

Two days later, gunmen shot al-Mansouri dead in his car.