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February 8, 2007
Jordan, The Knights Of Justice, And Days Of Skepticism

The Guardian has an interesting look into Jordan's efforts to fight radical Islamist terrorism from the rather unique position of a Muslim monarchy. After a deadly attack on a hotel killed 60 people, mostly from a wedding reception, Jordan formed a task force with the dramatic name, The Knights of Justice. Their mission is to find and destroy al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups operating in Jordan, but they may have a tougher mission in convincing Jordanians of the necessity of the task:

In November 2005 events provided proof that Jordan was not immune to the fallout of the war next door. Three Iraqi al-Qaida suicide bombers slaughtered 60 people, many of them wedding guests, in coordinated attacks on three hotels. It was the worst terrorist atrocity the country had ever suffered. A fourth Iraqi, a woman, was captured with her bomb's trigger mechanism jammed. She has been sentenced to death.

The Knights of Justice emerged soon afterwards, the Arabic name a clever piece of branding that combined the macho feel of a Hollywood action movie with a vaguely religious resonance. "It is natural that fighting Islamists they chose a name with a Muslim ring," says Mustafa Harmarneh, a political scientist.

Operating under the Mukhabarat intelligence service, the unit's brief is to penetrate, neutralise or wipe out jihadist or so-called takfiri groups.

It was credited with helping the US hunt down and kill the notorious Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, last summer. Shortly before that, its agents captured an Iraqi named Ziyad Qarbouli, who provided vital leads about Zarqawi's whereabouts. Qarbouli is awaiting trial for the murder of a Jordanian driver and two Moroccan diplomats.

The group has had a series of successes against terrorists, perhaps to the point of making it look too easy. The Arabic Jordanians appear as susceptible to conspiracy theories as Arabs in other nations. Many of them dismiss the most famous of the thwarted attacks, the plan to attack Amman with chemical weapons in 2004. Jordan's Mukhabarat, in which the Knights operate, took credit for smashing an AQ ring and capturing the materiel for the attack. Although the evidence got wide dissemination around the world, some Jordanians believe it to have been manufactured by the Mukhabarat.

Ian Black opens his story by reporting on the death of a terrorist in a KoJ operation in Irbid. The KoJ apparently dropped the house on top of his head after an hours-long gun battle with the terrorist barricaded inside. The Jordanians took one man alive and captured weapons, explosives, and computers that should keep their intel units occupied for the next few weeks. Even with that evidence, Jordanians in Irbid express skepticism that terrorists would have chosen their town as an organization center.

Jordan's King Abdullah and his government have proven to be a critical ally in the war against radical Islamist terror, especially after the hotel bombing. However, a good portion of his people seem more likely to blame the CIA, Mossad, and Abdullah's Mukhabarat than the group of religious fanatics who love death more than life. The impulse for conspiracy theories has not excepted Jordan, and where that kind of fantastical thinking exists, extremism is not usually far behind.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 8, 2007 4:52 AM

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