Salafi-Jihadists in Jordan: From Prison Riots to Suicide Operation Cells

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 9

A Jordanian security source indicated that the General Intelligence Department (Mukhbarat) was able to foil a number of terrorist attacks in Jordan since the beginning of 2005. This was part of the announcement that Jordanian security forces were able to thwart a suicide operation targeting a “vital civil facility” (al-Ghad, March 2). The person who was supposed to carry out the operation was a Libyan national, Mohammad Darsi (25 years-old), in addition to two Iraqi nationals, Abdul Karim al-Jumaili (48 years-old) and Muhsen al-Lousi (34 years-old), both from Baghdad. They were caught with four kilograms of explosives of the same kind carried by Sajida al-Rishawi, the fourth suicide bomber, who failed to carry out her end of the plan in the bombing of three Jordanian hotels on November 9, 2005. The source indicated that security forces were on the trail of a Saudi national and three Iraqi nationals, from the same cell, who are still on the run (Petra News Agency, March 1). It was later announced that one of the Iraqis, Saad al-Nuaimi, was captured the following day.

Given the announcement that Jordanian security forces foiled several attacks since 2005 and the fact that the majority of the cell members were non-Jordanians, especially from Iraq, it would seem that the Salafi-Jihadist movement is focusing a great deal of its efforts on Jordan. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, Jordan has witnessed many trials and arrests of jihadists. Since that date, Jordanian courts are looking into 18 cases related to the Salafi-Jihadist movement compared to nine cases since 1991, the year when the first real appearance of the Salafi-Jihadist movement on the Jordanian scene arrived in Jaish Muhammad (the Army of Muhammad). Those cases began with the case against Azmi al-Jayousi and his companions, the “Tawhid and Jihad” case, who, upon Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s directions, tried to blow up the General Intelligence quarters in 2004.

Moreover, there is the case against Saudi national Fahd Nouman Suweilem al-Faqihi, who attempted to blow himself up on the Saudi-Jordanian border in 2004; he received the death sentence recently. There are also those accused with launching a missile attack in Aqaba in 2005. The number of Salafi-Jihadist cells and groups involved in Jordan clearly shows that the movement is focusing its attention on the country. It is estimated that the number of Salafi-Jihadist prisoners (convicts and detainees) held in Jordan consists of 180 males distributed among the following prisons: 79 in Jwaideh, 12 in Qafqafa, 12 in Birain and 20 in Swaqa (Ar-Rai, March 2).

The focus on Jordan is not restricted to some marginal groups. On the contrary, the convicts and detainees are highly organized and dangerous. They are incidentally the men who led the simultaneous riots in three Jordanian prisons in the first hours of March 1, in which a number of police officers were taken hostage for 13 hours in the Jwaideh prison.

The problem started with some Salafi-Jihadist prisoners opposing the police officers’ attempt to isolate two convicts in the assassination of American diplomat Lawrence Foley, in addition to their attempts to isolate Azmi al-Jayousi. The situation, however, escalated, and some sources indicated that the prisoners also demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, while other sources denied that and maintained that the prisoners’ demands focused on improving their treatment by prison authorities (Amman Net Radio,, February 28).

The simultaneous nature of the prison riots, however, implies that the Salafi-Jihadist movement possesses a remarkable organizational ability. At the general level, the prison riots coincided with the news about the prisoners’ mutiny in an Afghan prison; among the mutiny were members of al-Qaeda. Additionally, the Jordan prison riots also came after the escape of 23 al-Qaeda members from their prison in Yemen, and the failed second escape attempt of some al-Qaeda members—Yemeni security forces recently revealed (as-Sharq al-Awsat, March 2). This indicates the decentralization of the Salafi-Jihadist movement while, at the same time, they attempt to maintain a single trend whereby they appear like an undefeatable colossal movement.

On the local Jordanian level, the movement displayed a significant organizational ability in organizing the riots in the three prisons simultaneously, particularly since the prisons were far from each other. The riot drove the Jordanian General Security to announce the formation of a committee to investigate how mobile phones were leaked into the prisons (al-Ghad, March 2). This shows the danger inherent in the movement. Ayman al-Safadi, editor in chief of al-Ghad newspaper, described this danger in terms of two aspects: a material danger as reflected in the prison incident, and the ideological danger in terms of “those they can reach among convicts in cases not related to terrorism” (al-Ghad, March 2). Safadi’s comments hold a lot of accuracy, especially that al-Zarqawi, with his criminal record and during his imprisonment, recruited men from prisoners in criminal cases (see Fouad Hussein’s book “Zarqawi: Al-Qaeda’s Second Generation,” published as a series in al-Quds al-Arabi from May 13-30, 2005, and as a separate publication in 2005).

It can be noted that the Salafi-Jihadist movement is focusing on Jordan and that it possesses organizational abilities in a way that increases the burden shouldered by Jordanian security forces and Jordanian society, particularly because Jordan is among the countries involved in the “war against terrorism” and at the same time is targeted by terrorism.