Jordan is the native country of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the slain founder of the organization that later became the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. However, the kingdom’s jihadist landscape is currently dominated by forces that oppose the group and are aligned with al Qaeda and its Syrian ally, Jabhat al-Nusra. Though the ISIL has its own supporters in Jordan, the best-known jihadist ideologues in the country—people such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada —have criticized the group, especially its revolt against al Qaeda, creating dissension within jihadist ranks in Syria.
The ISIL’s jihadist opponents are dismayed by what they see as the group’s high-risk maneuvers, such as its mass killings of Shiites and its insistence on imposing austere Islamist laws in the areas it controls, which risk alienating locals in a given country. In September 2013, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued guidance specifically addressing the issue, calling on jihadist fighters to refrain from fighting sects, such as Shiites, Ismailis, Qadianis and Sufis, unless elements from those sects begin the fight. He similarly called for non-interference with Christian, Sikh and Hindu communities living in Muslim lands. He also ordered jihadists not to target non-combatant women and children nor to target fellow Muslims via explosions, killings, kidnappings or destruction of property.
The ISIL rejected this call. The group’s predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, despite frictions with Jordan-based jihadists, was able to stage attacks in the country, including suicide bombings in 2005 that targeted three Western hotels in Amman, and the 2002 assassination of US diplomat Lawrence Foley. Now that the group’s capabilities have dramatically expanded, it can certainly carry out attacks in the kingdom if it chooses to do so. The ISIL will have to assess its current position, especially in light of its push into Iraq, and decide whether it is in its interest to quickly begin operations in Jordan, or whether it should wait until it has consolidated itself in Iraq and weathered the counteroffensive from Shiites and Kurds there.
The ISIL certainly will not want to alienate many of its Iraqi Sunni partners who have sanctuary in Jordan. Sunni tribal forces in Iraq would prefer that the group focus on that country and desist from any action in Jordan that could trigger a strong reaction from Amman. It is unclear how the ISIL will proceed. The key thing to bear in mind is that while it can carry out terrorist attacks in Jordan, there are too many constraints for the group to act in Jordan as it has in Syria and Iraq.
Republishing by The Manila Times of this analysis is with the express permission of STRATFOR.