Massive Islamic State Attack Foiled in Jordan?
Jordanian security forces raided large parts of the northern city of Irbid on March 1, 2016, in what was described as the largest operation of its kind in the kingdom in recent years. The target was an Islamic State cell that was reportedly planning attacks on civilian and military targets in the country. The raid, which had lasted for 11 hours, ended up leaving 7 militants and one Jordanian officer dead. Large amounts of weapons and ammunition were seized.
The Islamic State has posed a longtime threat to Jordan, and has carried out massive terrorist attacks in the country in the past. However, this week's events mark the first significant operation the kingdom was forced to wage against Islamic State cells on its own territory since the declaration of IS’ self-styled Caliphate in 2014. There are a number of potential reasons for this recent escalation. The setbacks that the Islamic State is experiencing in Iraq and Syria might be driving a renewed interest in Jordan, aided by the massive influx of refugees from Syria that is changing the landscape of Jordan's northern urban centers, which can be utilized by Islamic State recruiters. Historically, Homegrown Salafism in Jordan has been more common in the southern city of Ma'an.
The growing number of refugees will be difficult to monitor and will make it increasingly hard for Jordanian intelligence to identify infiltration by terrorist elements. Such infiltration can be initiated by Jordanians returning from Syria and Iraq, as approximately 2000 Jordanians are estimated to have traveled to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Jordan is also finding it increasingly challenging to supply the refugees' basic needs, a fact that can be exploited by extremist elements. In addition, tensions between Jordanians and refugees have reportedly increased, and IS has been notoriously efficient in amplifying existing tensions to destabilize regimes throughout the region.