Attrition: Al Qaeda At War With Itself

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November 26,2008: Jordanian Islamic radicals have been on the defensive for the last two years, and now they are fighting each other. This began when Islamic radical scholar Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi was released from prison this past March, and issued statements toning down his previous calls for Islamic terrorism. Maqdisi had made some friends into enemies three years ago, when he publically criticized a former protégé, Iraq al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for killing too many Moslems with all his terrorist bombings. But now there is a definite rift among Jordanian Islamic radicals, between radical, and the very radical.

Three years ago, a poll by the Pew Research Organization, revealed that support for al Qaeda, in Moslem nations, was declining. In only one Moslem country, Jordan, had support for Islamic terrorism increased (from 55 percent in 2002, to 60 percent.) More typical was Morocco, where support for al Qaeda dropped from 49 to 26 percent. In Lebanon, only two percent of the population supported al Qaeda.

Jordanian attitudes were influenced by the fact that most of the population considers itself Palestinian (or at least descended from Palestinian refugees). Jordan has also seen very few al Qaeda attacks. This is mostly due to the efficient police force, who are dominated by the Bedouin minority that runs the kingdom. One aspect of that control is to allow people to say, and believe, what they want. While the Palestinian majority may not like the monarchy, they know that the Bedouins would respond violently to any uprising. That has happened often enough in the past half century, to convince most Jordanians that, while you can shout nasty things at the king, don't take a shot at him. That said, the current king of Jordan, and his late father, went out of their way to be nice to their Palestinian citizens, as long as there was no violence against the government. The occasional violation of this understanding was met with a swift, and sometimes violent, response. Jordan is not a police state, but it is very well policed.

With al Qaeda taking a beating in Iraq back then, the organization moved more of its operations to Jordan. The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq at the time, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was a Jordanian, and had been condemned to death in Jordan for terrorism, and always wanted to inflict some pain back home, if only for old times sake. Islamic terrorists have long been active in Jordan. But Zarqawi found himself in Iraq in early 2003, because the police were hot on his heels back in Jordan, and Saddam was always quick to offer sanctuary for terrorists.

Zarqawi's attempts to terrorize his own home country were largely unsuccessful. Jordanian security forces stopped two Islamic terror attacks in 2003, eight in 2004 and ten in 2005. The turning point came in 2006. First, there was an al Qaeda bombing of a wedding reception in Jordan in November, 2005. There were four bombers; three men and a woman. The attack killed 56 and wounded about a hundred. The woman's bomb failed to go off. She fled the scene, but was hunted down and arrested four days later. She confessed and provided details of the operation. The Jordanian population was outraged. Most Jordanians believed that their support of al Qaeda gave them immunity to such savage attacks on civilians. Attacks against government targets were OK, but a wedding reception? Seven months later, Zarqawi was finally cornered and killed in Iraq. It's still believed that he was give up to American intelligence by rivals among the Iraqi terrorist groups. Al Qaeda tried to explain away the November bombing as an attempt to kill CIA agents staying at the hotel. Most Jordanians didn't believe it, and support for al Qaeda plummeted.

Al Qaeda, and Islamic radicals, have been losing lots of popular support because of all the terror attacks in Moslem countries. In the 1990s this was going on in Egypt and Algeria, and again in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, as the Taliban, and their al Qaeda allies, sought to use terror to control Afghans who disagreed with the severe form of Islam the radicals were pushing. Iraq was the turning point, as the extent of Islamic terrorism against other Moslems turned the majority of Moslems against the radicals. This was especially true in Saudi Arabia, where much of the enthusiasm for the current round of Islamic terrorism came from. It was another case of being careful what you ask for, as you might get it, and not like it.

 


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