Jordan’s Salafists Provide Lifeline to Syrian Opposition

Jordan’s northern region has become a worrying source of Salafist extremist combatants providing support for the Syrian revolution in southern Syria, reports Tamer al-Samadi.

al-monitor A Syrian soldier points on Jan. 23, 2013, at a spot where Jordanian Mohammed Jarad, a brother-in-law of slain al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was believed to have been killed in the southern Syrian city of Suwayda. Photo by AFP/GETTY IMAGES/Anwar Amro.

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syrian, muslim, jordanian muslim brotherhood, islamist

Apr 23, 2013

Islamist fighters affiliated with the jihadist Salafist movement in Jordan are infiltrating the city of Daraa under the cover of night, avoiding ambushes set up along the way by the Jordanian army along the border with its northern neighbor. The border is estimated to be about 350 kilometers (217 miles) wide.

The Salafists travel across rugged roads and minefields planted by the Syrian regime in hopes of joining Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been listed by the US as a terrorist organization. They rely on gangs that smuggle weapons and people into hot fighting zones in exchange for amounts ranging from $600 to $900 per person, in addition to the fees imposed on weapons, which exceed $400 per gun.

A 30-year-old man who chose the name Abu Qudamah for himself is one of the most prominent members of the movement. Abu Qudamah managed to breach the fortified border and join one of the battalions of Jabhat al-Nusra active in Daraa. He was later critically injured and forced to return to Jordan, where the general intelligence apparatus began to pursue him.

He says, “I spent weeks in the ranks of the mujahedeen. …  I was with hundreds from Jordan, the Gulf and Iraq.” He added that the war has left big scars on his face and body, “I got hit by a rocket launcher and I lost a leg. My body still has pieces of shrapnel that doctors were unable to remove.”

“The mujahedeen insisted that I go back to Jordan for treatment, but I vowed to return again. … I entered Syria with the help of smugglers, and I left with their help as well, under the cover of the night, through secret lines designed to smuggle in equipment and volunteers,” he added.

At the heart of the city of Zarqa, which is about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Amman and a stronghold of Salafist jihadis, Al-Hayat met Munif Samara, a leading figure in the movement. Samara has a doctorate in general medicine and is married to a Muslim French woman who has been working on the translation of books issued by the Jordanian spiritual father of the fighters, Issam Barqawi. Barqawi, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, currently is in prison on charges of terrorism.

Samara, sporting a thick beard and dark, traditional Afghan garb, talked about the main stations crossed by Jordanian Salafists in Syrian territory, stressing that these constitute — given their number and the combat experience they have accumulated — a lifeline for Jabhat al-Nusra members and certain Islamist militant groups.

During an interview at his big house, built on a hill away from the noise of a city filled with bleak camps inhabited by poor Palestinians, Samara said: “Going to Syria requires tight security plans and intensive cooperation with smugglers who were up until yesterday (before the revolution) engaged in smuggling Syrian cigarettes into the bordering Jordanian towns and villages. ... They are paid amounts ranging from 400 to 500 Jordanian dinars ($560 to $700) per person.

“Many of the Salafists, most of whom are poor, sold their houses, cars, and even gas tanks to be able to pay for transit and for the purchase of spare light weapons,” he added.

According to jihadist members interviewed by Al-Hayat, the market in weapons smuggled to Syria and bought by the Salafists in specific spots south of Amman, particularly in the areas of Sahab and Laban, is witnessing an unprecedented rise in prices.

According to these members, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being pursued by security services, the price of a Kalashnikov, a rare commodity these days, is 1,300 dinars, or about $1,830, up from 600 dinars ($850) at the beginning of the Syrian crisis.

The bullet price exceeded 2.5 dinars ($3.50), up from a dinar ($1.50) before the crisis.

According to Samara, “Salafists cross the border city of Daraa at night — for security purposes — traveling through mountains and valleys. They move from one village to another, before they gather in predefined places to then be dispersed across military units, as needed.”

“The mujahedeen in Syria need good fighters; Jordanian Salafists meet that requirement,” he added, saying that at least 500 Jordanian- Syrian fighters are in the battle now; around 40 have been killed, and seven died in “martyrdom” operations.

According to figures confirmed by security and Salafist sources to Al-Hayat, the number of jihadists residing in Jordan amounts to about 5,000. They work secretly and wait for a chance to join their “brother” fighters, as the authorities closely monitor them.

Samara explains that the majority of Jordan's jihadists stationed on the Syrian front — most of whom are from Zarqa, Ruseifa, Amman and cities of the south, the center and the north — lead prominent military brigades in Jabhat al-Nusra, as many of them have already fought battles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya and Yemen.

Iyad Toubasi, also known as Abu Gelebeb, is one of the most prominent Jordanian leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra and the brother-in-law of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Abu Gelebeb, 33, was born in the poor neighborhood of Nozha in the center of Zarqa, and he fought alongside Zarqawi in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently the emir of Jabhat al-Nusra in Damascus and Daraa.

Four months ago, he was seriously injured and taken to Turkey for treatment, before returning again to resume fighting.

Mustafa Abdul Latif, also known as Abu Anas al-Sahaba, is another Jordanian leader of Jabhat al-Nusra. He is from the Ruseifa brigade (of Palestinian majority) adjacent to Zarqa, and is considered the first military commander of the southern region.

According to Samara, “The main source of power for Jabhat al-Nusra after the Syrians are the Jordanians, followed by the Gulf fighters, then the Iraqis and the Moroccans.”

Salafist groups expert Hassan Abu Haniyeh estimates the number of Syrians in the ranks of the Jabhat al-Nusra at about 1,500 fighters out of a total 4,000.

He confirms that Syria has become the largest area of attraction for Salafi jihadists after Afghanistan. ...

Abu Haniyeh does not rule out the existence of a desire among Arab countries to get rid of jihadists through a Syrian genocide. He says there are several countries worried that those crossing toward the northern neighbor might repeat the scenario of the Arabs in Afghanistan.

A field commander with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Daraa confirms Jabhat al-Nusra's high level of organization and power on the ground, saying they are the “best-armed in southern Syria.”

Mohammad Shalabi (alias Abu Sayyaf), leader of the Salafist jihadist movement in southern Jordan, says, “The Jordanian government is trying to prevent fighters from crossing the border to join forces against Bashar al-Assad.”

Abu Sayyaf, who lives in the desert city of Maan, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Amman, adds, “We sat down with the leaders of the security services, we talked to them and we asked them why they are not letting us go to Syria.”

He continued, “They are afraid that our fighters will come back, just as the Arabs in Afghanistan did before them, and that they will declare jihad and fight in their home regions. However, this option is not on the table. …There are battlefields that are more important to the militants.”

In the last few days, Jordan arrested around 100 jihadists before they reached Syria.

Jordanian officials said the army and security forces are doing their best to control the easily-penetrable border.

The biggest source of anxiety for Jordan is the growing power of extremist militants in the ranks of the Syrian opposition.

Maher Abou Tair, a political commentator close to decision-making circles in Amman, said, “Amman has growing anxiety that a jihadist emirate might be formed on its border with Syria. It also fears the repercussions of such an occurrence, including possible clashes and infiltration into Jordan, which have tasted the misfortunes from al-Qaeda and extremist groups in the past.”

Primary deployment of foreign militants in Syria

The Islamic Jihad Brigades (Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Mujahedeen Shura Council, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Batar Brigades and Liwaa al-Fajr) rely on foreign elements that constitute an integral part of their structure, be they lawmakers, militants, clerics, experts, technicians or political theorists. The foreign elements in this group are divided into two categories:

An Arab category that includes two kinds of Arab militants: from the Gulf and Morocco. Some fought in regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Libya, while others had their first experience in the Syrian battlefield.

The first category is reliable, since its partisans had wide experience in the military and legal leadership fields. The second category is more field-oriented and active in battles and on heated fronts, after its members joined training camps on the Turkish border or inside the “liberated” internal regions.

Moreover, the second reliable group, which is somewhat fixated on martyrdom operations, mostly consists of militants from the Arab Maghreb, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Libya and Tunisia — the source of influx of many supporters of the Salafist Jihadist Movement.

As for the foreign category, it is least apparent to the public, but its presence is pronounced within these movements, especially Jabhat al-Nusra. There is one militant from France, who has worked for a long time as a military trainer within the ranks of Ahrar al-Sham in the suburbs of Idlib [in Syria]. However, he left shortly after having trained many militants.

Militants with Caucasian origins are the luckiest and most reputable in the military sphere. Islamist militants keep talking about their operations. However, Caucasians are the least visible, at least in the region of eastern Idlib. However, they are highly present in western Aleppo, Azaz and the neighboring regions as well as inside Aleppo, where militants excel in street battles and sniping.

There are also militants from Ukraine and Bosnia, as well as militants and doctors from France, Britain and the Netherlands of Maghrebi origin.

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