Jordan says Syria jihadists trying to sneak in

Amman beefs up border defense amid fears its role in battle against Islamic State may bring attacks in response

Illustrative photo of guards at the entrance to the Mrajeeb al-Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, April 10, 2013. (AP/Mohammad Hannon)
Illustrative photo of guards at the entrance to the Mrajeeb al-Fhood refugee camp in Zarqa, Jordan, April 10, 2013. (AP/Mohammad Hannon)

ON THE SYRIA BORDER, Jordan (AP) — Militants have tried to sneak into Jordan from Syria by blending in with Syrian refugees, and attempts to smuggle weapons and drugs into Jordan have increased, the commander of Jordan’s Border Guard said in an interview Sunday.

Brig. Gen. Saber al-Mahayreh told The Associated Press that surveillance along Jordan’s borders is tight and that his forces can “spot a rabbit” trying to cross. The monitoring system consists of radar, drones and surveillance towers along the borders with Syria and Iraq that can detect infiltrators some 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, he said.

The general said his forces have so far blocked all infiltrators and smugglers. “It is not possible for any terrorist groups to enter Jordan,” he said at Border Guard headquarters on the outskirts of the northern Jordanian town of Zarqa.

At the same time, he said he expects more infiltration attempts because the security situation in Syria and Iraq continues to deteriorate.

Western ally Jordan has been thrust to the front lines of the battle against Islamic State extremists who have seized one-third of neighboring Iraq and Syria. Since September, Jordan has been participating in airstrikes launched by a US-led coalition against IS targets, amid concerns that militants would try to retaliate, including by carrying out attacks in the kingdom.

Sunday’s interview was followed by a trip to a Jordanian border post on the Syrian border, near the Jordanian-Syrian trade crossing of Jaber. Jordan closed the crossing in April, effectively ending overland trade with Syria, after Syrian rebels seized the Syrian side of the crossing from troops loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad.

The Jordanian border post offered a sweeping view of Syrian territory. A local commander, who could not be identified by name in line with briefing regulations, said a line of tents and empty homes visible in the distance were manned by rebels, but that there was no Islamic State presence in the area.

The border was marked by a low berm behind a paved patrol road. A second berm, running parallel to the first one, marked the outlines of a no-go zone. Under the rules of engagement, Jordanian border forces shoot and kill anyone trying to enter this strip, about 70 to 100 meters wide, the commander said.

He said three Syrian smugglers were killed in separate incidents since he took command of the area four months ago.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

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