Maqdesi was found guilty of ‘plotting terrorism’ and recruiting fighters to join the Taliban in Afghanistan [AP]
Amman, Jordan – Jordanian authorities have released Salafi leader Assem Barqawi, better known as Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, after having served a five-year prison sentence on allegations of jeopardising state security and recruiting jihadists to fight in Afghanistan.
His release came as a surprise to some after the escalating war in Syria has presented big security challenges to neighbouring Jordan, especially amid an increasing number of Jordanians joining jihadist groups inside the war-torn country.
“We did not expect his release. We thought he would be interrogated and held further,” Mohammad Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, head of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafist Movement told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.
Maqdesi is a supporter of al-Nusra front which, unlike ISIL, does not have any ambitions to take over the region.
-Hasan Abu Hanya, expert on jihadist movements
Experts and Salafists, however, say that releasing Maqdesi, who has been very critical of violence committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), serves Jordan’s interest as the movement has achieved gains in neighbouring Iraq recently and added to Jordan’s security woes.
“Maqdesi is a supporter of al-Nusra front, one of the fighting groups in Syria, which unlike ISIL, does not have any ambitions to take over the region,” said Hasan Abu Hanya, an expert on jihadist movements.
“He is the mentor and father of our curriculum,” Abu Sayyaf told Al Jazeera.
“There is a pressing need for a mentor like him at this time of bloodshed. He is very concerned about the blood of Muslims being shed and their souls and honour,” Abu Sayyaf added.
In a recent statement published to his website, Tawheed, the leader condemned ISIL and called it “deviant” and called on jihadists to follow “the right [path] and stop the bloodshed”.
According to Abu Hanyah, there are more than 2,000 supporters of ISIL in Jordan – an alarming number for the Jordanian authorities.
“If some 4,000 ISIL members turned Mosul upside down, it is very dangerous for Jordan to have such numbers of supporters, given how violent and experienced the movement is,” he said.
Jordanian officials’ concern has been exacerbated after Iraq reportedly pulled out its forces from the Jordanian border on Sunday.
During a meeting with parliamentarians dedicated to discussing the challenges following the situation in Iraq, Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali said that Jordan had built-up its military presence near the Iraq border by sending gendarmerie forces and additional security forces.
Maqdesi arrived at his house in Rusaifa town in northern Jordan, which is home to the Salfist movement, yesterday. He refused to give media interviews, but will soon issue a statement, according to Abu Sayyaf.
His lawyer, Majid Liftawi, believes his client is not guilty of any terror charges.
“It was all because of his political beliefs and writings,” he said.
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on Youtube on June 12, 2014, allegedly shows Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants taking part in a military parade in the northern city of Mosul. (Photo: AFP/Youtube)
The ramifications of ISIS’ recent victories [in Iraq] did not take long to reach Jordan, in particular the southern Maan region, a hotbed of tension where a few days ago dozens of Salafi jihadis held a pro-ISIS march. They called for the removal of the borders established by the Sykes-Picot agreement and backed “the ISIS conquest of Iraq.”
Amman: As ISIS redraws the map in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is only a stone’s throw away from its fighters. They took control of the Turaibil border crossing for several hours, before the Iraqi army announced they had managed to recapture the crossing and expelled the gunmen. Sources are indicating that Jordan participated in a raid on ISIS convoys, although security officials in the kingdom refused to comment on the situation.
The initial hit-and-run attacks along the 181 kilometer-long border are raising concerns in Amman about ISIS expanding into Jordanian territory. Jordan is already witnessing a tense security situation due to the presence of many Syrian refugees, as well as the participation of around two thousand Jordanians in armed Islamist groups, who have expressed that Jordan might be their next goal. This was made clear in several clips posted on YouTube, the main media platform for the armed groups.
Ibrahim S., an Iraqi working as a technical director in a Jordanian factory, explained that he has been hesitant to go back to Iraq in his private car for the past week. He told Al-Akhbar that he received calls from family and friends warning him about travel via land since “ISIS gunmen have set up checkpoints on the Amman-Baghdad international highway.”
Hazem Qashou, head of the foreign committee in the Jordanian parliament, officially expressed indignation concerning the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from border zones, “which caused a real problem at the borders.” As for the expansion of ISIS into Jordan, along with the already growing salafi tide in the country, Qashou indicated to Al-Akhbar that the region is going through a period of hardship.
“Thus, the opposition and loyalists have to stand by the army and the armed forces,” he said. Qashou also revealed a prospective visit by Jordanian MPs to the borders with Iraq. “There are contacts between [Jordanian] MPs and Iraqi officials to discuss the impending threat.”
Despite the news about the recapture of Turaibil, some video clips show the crossing abandoned with the Iraqi army nowhere insight. However, Jordanian military sources announced that dozens of troops have been put on alert close to the location, which is the main entry point to Iraq. Eyewitnesses explained to Al-Akhbar that several convoys of tanks, armoured carriers, and rocket launchers have been deployed in the region.
Jordanian government spokesperson, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammed al-Momani, denied rumors that Jordan decided to close its borders with Iraq. However, he indicated in press statement that movement at the border is very limited.
Al-Akhbar examined the situation from the military perspective, which was described by retired Major General Mohammed Khreisat, a former director of military operations, who is currently working in the Royal Defense Academy. He warned about an expected scenario, in which “Nouri al-Maliki’s government, with the support of Iran and the US, would push for a counterattack against ISIS-controlled regions. This will cause a wave of displacement that Amman cannot handle nor deal with.”
“For ISIS to expand in this manner, there must be a popular base to support it,” he added. “It is no secret it has a vanguard in the kingdom, who are part of the ideological framework of the state.” However, Khreisat insisted that “internal immunity and the readiness of the Jordanian army will not give them the opportunity.”
On the longer term, Islamist movement researcher Ibrahim al-Fayoumi concluded that the real danger is not in the immediate ramifications. “The problem lies in an intellectual approach whose dangers must be considered by everyone,” he explained. “That Jordanian jihadis are being sent to Syria and Iraq is an established fact. Around three months ago, Syrian television broadcast the pictures of people from ISIS and al-Nusra Front. It was later discovered that some lived in Azmi al-Mufti camp near Irbid (in the north) and others were from Maan (in the south), as well as al-Zarqa and other cities.”
In his interview with Al-Akhbar, Fayoumi warned of an incubator and sleeper cells for this organization in Jordan. “The appointment of a large number of Salafis as mosque imams and preachers contributed to the situation. They were able to lure simple people to their ideology.” He evoked the condolences expressed by several Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood leaders after the death of [al-Qaeda’s] Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, “which means they adopted his approach in thought and armed action.”
However, there is no link between that event and the Muslim Brotherhood’s current position. Hamza Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, explained that ISIS originated from al-Qaeda. It is expected to expand if the situation remains the same in the Arab world. Mansour was speaking last week after his party was unable to find any official or private venue to hold its fourth general conference. It is believed the decision came from the government. But they were able to hold the meeting in a public square.
In a press conference following the event, Mansour added that “no place will remain safe from al-Qaeda. We warn the Arab regimes about their war against moderation and moderate Islam, since this will give fuel to jihadi organizations.”
The Muslim Brotherhood official called on the Jordanian government to implement reforms and be more representative of the people’s will, “to avoid a breach in the security wall, since the existence of ISIS came as a response to internal violence and the US occupation.”
Leaders of the jihadi Salafi movement in Jordan, however, joined Ayman al-Zawahiri in criticizing the brutality of ISIS. This included preacher Iyad al-Qunaibi, who spoke to Al-Akhbar last week and was later assaulted and his car smashed by six suspected ISIS supporters in Jordan.
Lebanese security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack which targeted an army checkpoint on June 20, 2014, on the main highway from Beirut to Damascus in the Dahr al-Baidar area. (Photo: AFP-Joseph Eid)
For 20 years, Hezbollah has been obliged to pay the price twice. The first being the price required to achieve its successes, and the second being the price that its enemies and opponents want to force it to pay for having achieved these successes.
After what happened in Syria over the past four months, many governments, intelligence services, and terrorist cells alike realized that the confrontation with Hezbollah is difficult and complex.
Hezbollah succeeded in not only discovering and tracking down a large number of terrorists involved in attacks against its base, and in Lebanon and Syria, but the party also showed unprecedented perseverance in hunting down those terrorists wherever they may be, in Lebanon or Syria, in the areas under its influence and those of its allies, and beyond. This was no laughing matter for Hezbollah, though its intelligence abilities may only be verified by way of the results they have achieved.
Practically speaking, Hezbollah was able to destroy the main logistical bases of the suicide bombers in Syria and along the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah dealt direct and fatal blows to the majority of individuals involved in terror attacks, both in the planning and execution thereof. In collaboration with security services in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere, Hezbollah was able to dismantle many cells that could have done a lot more damage.
True, the terrorists have been greatly weakened as a result. But Hezbollah, neither on the battlefield nor in its strongholds, has taken any practical action to suggest it is reassured by the results. Hezbollah judged that it has weakened the “lunatics” to a large extent, but the party knows their true makeup well, and it has information indicating these groups remain active and are attempting to regroup, and to gather enough support to resume their terrorist activities.
It is not logical to say that there is a full complementarity between al-Qaeda offshoots and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. But there is a great deal of overlap, centering on the fact that these countries, in addition to the Western powers and Israel, believe that only al-Qaeda and its offshoots can stand their ground in the battlefield, especially following the series of unprecedented scandals surrounding all other armed gangs that have been described as “moderate.” In other words, the bid to weaken the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah axis is now obligated to go through al-Qaeda and its offshoots.
Everyone is acting on the basis that the terrorism that swept through Iraq recently, which has wrested entire areas out of the control of the Iraqi state, can restore equilibrium following the series of defeats in Syria and then Lebanon.
While the state of euphoria that has possessed the governments involved in supporting this brand of terrorism remains confined to the political gains they seek in Iraq and Syria, the euphoria that emerged among the supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has far exceeded these governments’ calculations. Indeed, the novel situation has prompted a considerable number of terrorist groups to restart their engines, either to emulate or complement ISIS’ feats, or appear as though they have the ability to match ISIS – something that is mostly visible among the groups affiliated to al-Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
These groups are interlinked, and have a central “prime mover” in our region. Meanwhile, there have been major political developments following the recent election in Syria, which granted President Bashar al-Assad a large popular base; the parliamentary election in Iraq, which reinforced Nouri al-Maliki’s position in power, and the failure of the bid to extend Michel Suleiman’s term in Lebanon. All this was expected to lead to a readjustment in the strategy of the rival camp.
It is in this context that the recent events in Iraq played out, and also the attempts to heat things up in the Syrian front to achieve a major coup in Aleppo or the south. Similarly, a decision was made to re-ignite the Lebanese arena, to put pressure on Hezbollah toward making political concessions – as related to the presidency and the government – in exchange for security, and push its back to the wall to prevent it from playing any role in Iraq similar to the role is has been playing in Syria.
It is in this climate that all alarm bells went off at once in the corridors of the security services in Lebanon. First, the Intelligence Directorate of the Lebanese army received cryptic tips from the United States about groups having arrived in Lebanon to carry out attacks against healthcare facilities. It was the view of some analysts that this meant attacks on hospitals in Beirut’s southern suburbs where wounded Hezbollah fighters are being treated.
Then there were tips from European capitals, relayed to the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces, about the arrival of cells comprising Saudi nationals into Lebanon to carry out attacks on Shias in particular. There was also information about a sudden surge in the activity of groups affiliated to the armed Syrian opposition in the Bekaa Valley, including in the town of Arsal, where al-Nusra Front has reportedly regrouped despite the security measures taken by the Lebanese government.
All these warnings indicate that a green light has been given to reignite the Lebanese arena. The goal: to undo the achievements of the Resistance in Syria though a “suicide-bombing fest” in Beirut and its suburbs, as one well-placed source puts it.
It will take time to fully understand what happened on Friday. There is no evidence that attacks were about to be carried out in Beirut nor is there overwhelming evidence that Abbas Ibrahim was the target of the suicide attack in Dahr al-Baidar, and the same goes for the rumors about a Mossad document and a journalist from a Lebanese origin who warned about Ibrahim’s assassination. Similar theories have been circulating on social media, and it seems that some have a very vivid imagination regarding events that never materialized.
But what is certain is that there are some parties trying to push Lebanon toward a return to the tension that prevailed before the battles in Qalamoun were settled. There are worrying signs from the northern regions, where those who were hurt by the government’s security plan might be seeking to bring back chaos. There is also an attempt to blackmail Hezbollah and its allies on many political and security-related issues, and all that this camp can do in the meantime is be more patient.
Ibrahim al-Amin is the editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
[The sheer numbers (and their frequency of occurrence) of Saudi suicide-bombers and Saudis leading Bomber cells killed or captured in Lebanon (which have been reported on this website at this LINK and on countless other alternative sites) would be enough to indict or to convict the entire Saudi royal family in any court in the world as primary sponsors of terrorism.
To describe Lebanese terrorism, one must tell a series of stories about plots, plots within plots….This is the nature of Lebanese terrorism. The plotters are myriad, all of them billionaires, trying to get even richer, by breaking-off a chunk of the Lebanese economy, or even better, by taking control of the state itself. This is the aim of the latest episode of the Western/Saudi/Israeli plot to own Lebanon, the bombers are just a diabolical means to a brutal end of the Lebanese state. By killing Rafik Hariri, this insane plot was set into motion.]
Fire engines work on extinguishing a fire after a suicide bomber blew himself up in his room at a Beirut hotel, Lebanon, Wednesday, June 25, 2014, as Lebanese security forces raided the premises. The bombing is the latest in a string of attacks and security sweeps in Lebanon over the past week that have sparked fears of renewed violence in a country that has been deeply affected by the civil war in neighboring Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — A suicide bomber, who blew himself up at a Beirut hotel and his accomplice who survived the blast, are citizens of Saudi Arabia, Lebanese officials said Thursday.
The bomber detonated his explosives at Beirut’s Duroy Hotel during a security raid on Wednesday evening, and died in the blast. Another man was wounded and was being questioned by security agents at a Beirut hospital.
A security and a judicial official told The Associated Press that a preliminary probe shows the two attackers entered Lebanon with Saudi passports on June 11. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk to the media during an ongoing investigation.
The blast toward the end of Wednesday evening rush-hour took place inside the Duroy Hotel in Raouche district, a posh neighborhood of apartment towers and upscale hotels perched on cliffs of Beirut overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
The Lebanese Red Cross said 11 other people were also wounded in the hotel explosion.
It was the third suicide bombing in Lebanon in less than a week and sparked fears of renewed violence in a country that has been deeply affected by the civil war in neighboring Syria.
On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a checkpoint outside a cafe just after midnight in a primarily Shiite neighborhood where the militant Hezbollah group has a strong presence. The bombing killed one person and wounded 20.
An al-Qaida-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has warned that such attacks will continue as long as Hezbollah takes part in Syria’s civil war alongside President Bashar Assad’s military.
Syria’s civil war has spilled into neighboring Lebanon on numerous occasions and inflamed sectarian tensions. A series of car bombs have struck Shiite areas across Lebanon, killing dozens of people. The operation also came amid mounting regional tensions over the events unfolding in Iraq.
A string of security incidents over the past week has rattled Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, after what had been a calm and stable stretch of several months.
Another bombing in eastern Lebanon last week killed a police officer and wounded several others.
The bombings, coupled with the detention last Friday in Beirut of people accused of being part of alleged Sunni extremist militant sleeper cells, has given rise to concerns that Lebanon could see a new wave of violence linked to the Syrian conflict.