Worried about terror attacks at home, Jordan steps up arrests of suspected Syria jihadists

25-04-2014 10:51 PM

Ammon News - AMMONNEWS - Jordan has stepped up arrests of hard-line Islamists and moved to strengthen anti-terror legislation amid rising concern about homegrown militants returning from the battlefields in next-door Syria.

A controversial draft bill, passed swiftly Tuesday by the lower house of parliament, would grant authorities greater powers to detain without trial people suspected of affiliation with terrorist groups. It also criminalizes the intent or act of joining recruiting, funding or arming terrorist organizations inside or outside Jordan.

The toughened legislation comes as the desert kingdom seeks to contain the flow of Jordanian jihadists who slip across the border with war-torn Syria, and whom officials deem a major national security threat.

Since December, court records show, authorities have arrested 120 suspected fighters and sent 90 to stand trial as foreign enemy combatants in the country’s military-run state security court. More than 40 have been convicted, some on charges legal experts say are not crimes under the current anti-terror law, including “entering Syria illegally with the intent to join militant groups.”

“Right now, any Jordanian who goes to fight in Syria is arrested upon his return to the country and sent to the court. There is no real system, and this is why we are in need of the law,” said government spokesman Mohammed Momani.

More than 2,000 Jordanians are believed to be fighting in Syria, according to Hassan Abu Haniyeh, an Amman-based expert in Islamist movements, who said the majority have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Jahbat al-Nusra, rival Islamist rebel groups. Security officials and Jordanian jihadist leaders estimated in interviews that about 300 militants have returned from the Syrian front over the past two months, most to escape rebel infighting or to seek medical treatment.

“This is a crisis the state was not prepared for,” Haniyeh said.

Mixed feelings

The crackdown and the proposed law have been criticized as overly harsh methods intended to muzzle dissent. But the law has drawn broad support from Jordanian lawmakers, who say the country, where terrorists bombed three hotels in 2005, needs broader legal tools to preempt attacks by battle-hardened fighters.

“There are many in parliament, myself included, who remain concerned that the law may be abused to restrict political and press freedoms and lead to the arrest of journalists and average citizens taking a stance on foreign political issues,” said Mohammed Qatatsheh, a parliamentarian from Amman. “But the threat posed by jihadists has changed with the times, and we have to change with them.”

*Washington Post

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