Jordan amends anti-terror law to stem local jihadists

Legislation meant to stem Al-Qaeda growth, though some fear it will be implemented for other purposes

Illustrative photo of Amman, Jordan (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Amman, Jordan (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

AMMAN (AFP) — Controversial amendments to Jordan’s anti-terrorism law seek to curb the influence of homegrown Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists fighting the regime of the kingdom’s northern neighbor Syria, analysts said.

New articles added to the law approved by MPs on Tuesday deem “joining or attempting to join armed or terrorist groups, or recruiting or attempting to recruit people to join these groups” acts of terrorism.

They also outlaw “acts that would expose Jordan or Jordanians to the danger of acts of aggression, or harm the kingdom’s relations with another country.”

Hundreds of Jordanian jihadists have joined hardline Islamist rebels in Syria fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Three years into the conflict, many of these battle-hardened Jordanians are returning home, causing deep concern in Amman.

“Jordan is surrounded by jihadist groups and there is a serious terrorist threat to the kingdom,” Oraib Rantawi, head of Amman’s Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told AFP.

“I think terrorism might find a suitable environment in Jordan. This environment is still isolated and limited, but at the same it is connected to regional developments, including Syria.”

Jordan passed its first anti-terrorism law in 2006, the year after three bombings targeting hotels in the capital killed 60 people.

But the kingdom still faces challenges as the bloodshed in Syria shows little sign of abating.

Amman has repeatedly expressed fears the conflict could spread across its borders, and has on several occasions aired its concerns over the regional impact of jihadists fighting Assad.

Damascus has accused Jordan’s government of backing the uprising by training and arming rebels, a charge denied by Amman, which says it has tightened border controls and jailed dozens trying to slip into Syria illegally.

“In recent years, many Jordanians travelled to Syria, Iraq and other countries to join jihadist groups. Jordan is worried about that, particularly that Amman considers those who return after jihad as a security threat,” Rantawi said.

‘Police state’

The changes to the 2006 terror law are intended to send a clear message — they stipulate the death penalty for the author of any attack that kills someone or uses explosives or biological and chemical substances in terrorist activities.

“The new amendments came to face the challenges imposed on Jordan by the conflict in Syria,” Hassan Abu Hanieh, an expert on Islamist groups, told AFP.

“Syria has become a major attraction for jihadists, creating a key challenge to the region and the entire world. The changes in the law were made specifically to deal with this issue.”

Jordan’s new legislation came after Saudi Arabia listed the Muslim Brotherhood and two Syrian jihadist groups as “terrorist” organisations on March 7, and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return within 15 days or face imprisonment.

The law now criminalizes “the use of information technology, the Internet or any means of publication or media, or the creation of a website, to facilitate terrorist acts or back groups that promote, support or fund terrorism.”

Some MPs criticized the changes, which Jordanian officials insist have nothing to do with Syria.

“We are all against terrorism and terrorism is punishable in the penal code and other laws. But the anti-terrorism law in its new form restricts freedoms and could harm the country’s image,” said MP Mahmud Kharabsheh.

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood slammed the law.

“Jordanian laws have already tackled the issue of terrorism, so I don’t think the new changes are justified,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the Brotherhood.

“The attendements can be used to serve goals that are not related to fighting terrorism. They are a sign we are turning into a police state.”

Abu Hanieh said Jordan “wants to make it clear to those who want to go join jihadist groups: ‘if you join such groups, don’t think of coming back’.”

“Jordan is still dealing with the problem from a security viewpoint. Some young people could be brainwashed. So are they victims of terrorism or terrorists?”

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