According to a source close to the case, the suspected mastermind of an attack on a Jewish restaurant in Paris France in 1982, which left six people dead and injured 22 others, has been arrested in Jordan.
Zuhair Mohamed Hassan Khalid al-Abassi was one of three men for whom France issued an international arrest warrant earlier this year. According to a French legal source, he was arrested on 1 June and an extradition request is underway. An official source from Jordan has indicated that “ a court (has) imposed a travel ban pending a decision on whether he will be extradited.”
According to a Jordanian source close to the case, extraditing to France the suspected mastermind of the attack may prove difficult as “Jordan does not usually extradite its citizens to other countries, even in the case of an extradition agreement,” adding, “in such a case, they are generally tried in specialized Jordanian courts.” Al-Abassi appeared, without legal representation, before Judge Talal al-Saghir, who specializes in extradition cases. According to the source, when asked if he was the person being sought by Paris in connection with the attack, the suspect replied in the affirmative. The judge has since ordered that Al-Abassi’s passport be surrendered. The suspect has been released on bail, pending resolution of the issue. According to security sources, Al-Abassi was detained in the city of Zarqa, which is located some 30 kilometres (18 miles) northeast of Amman.
Between three and five men are believed to have taken part in the attack, which was blamed on the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian militant group. The other two main suspects in the attack have been named as Mahmoud Khader Abed Adra, who lives in Ramallah in the West Bank, and Walid Abdulrahman Abu Zayed, who is a resident of Norway. The attack on the Chez Jo Goldenberg restaurant, in Paris’ Marais district, began around midday on 9 August, when a grenade was thrown into the dining room. Two men then entered the restaurant, which at the time had around 50 customers inside, and opened fire. They also shot at passers-by as they escaped down the street. The entire incident lasted several minutes. Over the years, the investigation has made little progress.
In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) has metastasised into one of the most horrific fighting groups of this century. The group has become renowned for rampant murder, the pillaging of villages and cities, widely publicised beheadings, the theft of oil and artefacts, and more recently of human organs.
Since they appeared on the world stage, ISIS has come to remind many of a combination of the worst villains Hollywood has ever imagined. More terrifying, the group’s combination of savvy marketing and recruiting, has resulted in numerous would-be fighters attempting to travel to ISIS strongholds to join the group.
The Debate: What does ISIS want?
ISIS seeks to form a caliphate that extends to the Mediterranean Sea. Their ideology has sparked numerous debates on whether they are a political group with a religious foundation, or a religious groups with a political foundation.
There is no denying that ISIS perceives themselves as an Islamic group; it’s in their name. However ISIS has modified their interpretation to create their own version of Islam. Their brand of Islam is a combination of fundamentalism similar to Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, but it is coupled with “violent Salafism” which deviated from evangelical Salafism in the 1960s and 70s. Further, the group has enacted a series of its own rulings or “fatwas” that are often in direct contradiction to Islam (for example, the burning of humans is strictly forbidden in ever interpretation of Islam—except for that which is held by ISIS).
ISIS has based its ideology on an apocalyptic message. Their magazine, Dabiq refers to a city in Syria that is said to be a site of great fighting during Armageddon (Malahim). The magazine states, “One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.” However the mention of this end-times battle is not found in the Qur’an. It is believed to be in one of the “lesser” Hadiths. This is an important point: in Islam, the Hadith is a collection of stories recounted of the prophet Muhammad. Each Hadith, over time, has been studied carefully to determine whether it can be verified and whether it is consistent with the Prophet’s teachings. Greater Hadiths are those which have extensive historical and scholarly evidence to support them. Lesser Hadiths have limited evidence to support them.
Despite their religious ideology, at the core of ISIS beliefs is an equal mix of political ideology. ISIS conducts itself as a state; collecting taxes and implementing its own version of judicial law and social controls. It grew out of region wide crisis in Iraq and flourished in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Here too, their political ideology has been the source of great debate. Some argue that US intervention was responsible for the creation of ISIS; others argue that former Iraqi President Nouri al Maliki institutionalised sectarian division in the nation, instigating a violent response among militant Sunni groups which already existed in the nation. The political goal of ISIS is to restore Sunni Islam to a place of (at least) equality, and their political message initially gained the support of non-militant Sunni Muslims who were marginalised by the nation’s government. In addition, ISIS often calls for the erasure of the Sykes-Picot lines which, in 1916, divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control or influence.
The question of what ISIS really wants has made it difficult to know how to deal with them. ISIS governs itself as an extreme Islamic caliphate, organises like a modern state, and fights like a guerrilla insurgency.
Impact of Global Politics
ISIS is believed to have amassed over 200,000 fighters, with potential members coming from as many as 90 nations. As stated earlier, ISIS has developed a savvy social media presence, and nations are stopping people on a near daily basis from travelling to the region.
Despite a US led coalition of forty nations that have agreed to fight ISIS, the battle against the terrorist group has become. However since the initiation of the coalition in August 2014, ISIS has continued to grow.
In part, ISIS has thrived because of the complexity of international politics. The main fighting forces on the ground are the Kurdish Peshmerga, who belong to a political movement known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has sought an autonomous Kurdish state in parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government reached its zenith in 2005 when the PKK conducted a series of bombings, leading them to become a designated terrorist group in Turkey, the United States, NATO, and the European Union. The EU Court removed its status as terrorist organisation in April 2008. However, the designation by the US and Turkey has brought with it problems of arming the PKK; the only group that has successfully battled ISIS on the ground.
To add to the complexity, another nation that has a vested interest in defeating ISIS is Iran, which is on the US “enemies” list. As such, Iran, with over 500,000 active troops, is not a member of the coalition. Iran has been facing heavy sanctions that have been put in place by the west; the US has taken the lead in negotiating nuclear reduction in Iran. The US believes that Iran could use nuclear infrastructure to build weapons which could be a direct threat to Israel. Iran maintains that the facilities are part of their energy infrastructure.
In Iraq, the Iraqi military fell apart with alarming speed when ISIS first came onto the scene. It has been reported that when ISIS militants sought to overtake a region, the generals left first, leaving the soldiers uncertain of what to do; and so they left as well. Under Maliki, it is believed that the Sunni members of the army were unhappy to fight for a nation that had alienated them. With a new president in place, the 350,000 member army is currently being trained by Western forces in order to engage in battle against ISIS. However in the meanwhile, Shiite militias have been remobilised to fill the vacuum, however their presence has left Sunni Muslims in a precarious situation.
The Syrian army is believed by many to be the most likely to contain the ISIS threat. In early February, Syrian forces together with the Kurdish fighters repelled an ISIS advance in north-eastern Syria. However, Syrian troops have been divided between fighting in a protracted civil war and fighting ISIS forces. This has decreased their ability to focus on a single target.
Why are more Arab ground troops not involved?
ISIS has overtly stated that they seek to gain ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, ISIS has established a presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and along the Libyan coastline. In mid-February, Egyptian conducted airstrikes against ISIS positions in Derna, Libya, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals. Shortly after the airstrikes, Egyptian President Sisi called for a joint Arab military force to tackle extremist groups in the region, and called for a United Nations mandate for foreign intervention in Libya. Sisi’s call raises an important question: why have Arab nations —particularly those at greatest risk from ISIS— not sent in ground troops to fight ISIS?
In short, many Arab militaries have not acted as fighting forces for some time. For example the Egyptian army had not engaged in ground war since the three-day border war with Libya in 1977. Further, the Egyptian military has not been deployed to a foreign nation since the North Yemen civil war of the 1960s, where it was defeated. The story is similar for many militaries in the region. Another problem arises from the history of Arab cooperation in defence. Divisions along political lines (Turkey and the Kurds, for example), prevent full trust and therefore full cooperation. Western analysts espouse hope that the GCC Peninsula Shield, a 40,000-strong force made up of countries in the Persian Gulf, will be deployed to fight ISIS, however the group is designed to prevent political unrest in existing regimes. It is a force for suppression, not battle. The GCC Peninsula shield was most recently deployed to quell unrest in Bahrain in 2011. Their targets were unarmed, disorganised civilians. It is unlikely that they are prepared to engage in battle against armed, methodical militants.
This does not mean that the battle against ISIS cannot be won. However it will require renewed training of security forces, the updating of weaponry, and the combined efforts of both Middle Eastern and Western forces. The biggest advantage that ISIS has is the political divides that keep forces from uniting. As long as nations around the world debate whether to send forces, or to interfere on sovereign land, or base their involvement on political conditions, ISIS will continue to thrive.
10 February—Earlier today, Jordan deployed thousands of ground troops to its border with Iraq as the kingdom ramps up its campaign against ISIS militants. The troops will stay at the border to prevent infiltration of ISIS militants into Jordan. Jordanian forces have also redoubled their efforts in targeting ISIS strongholds since the release of a brutal video showing the burning death of Lieutenant Kasasbeh. The pilot was captured in December and had been held hostage for months as the Jordanian government attempted to negotiate his release.
It is believed that the gruesome burning death of Kasasbeh was filmed at least a month prior to its release. ISIS continued with negotiations in an attempt to retrieve two al Qaeda linked fighters that had been imprisoned in Jordan, while also doing “post-production” editing to their latest video, which is considerably more high quality and . Following the release of the video, the detained fighters were immediately transferred to a Jordanian prison that handles execution. They were executed the following day.
The video of Kasasbeh’s death sparked outrage in Jordan. King Abdullah has vowed a “strong, earth-shaking and decisive” response. On 8 February, Jordanian forces conducted 56 airstrikes on ISIS targets. Abdullah has also sought to send ground troops into Syria, however Syrian president Bashar al Assad will not allow foreign ground troops. Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said, “So far, there is no coordination between Syria and Jordan in the fight against terrorism […] as for press reports about ground troops entering Syria, we say clearly that… we will not permit anyone to violate our national sovereignty by intervening to fight IS.” He added that the Syrian Arab Army would undertake the task of eradicating ISIS.
The refusal to allow Jordanian forces into Syria does not come as a surprise. Syria’s government has accused the kingdom of supporting terrorism, because Jordan has been supportive of the uprising against Assad which began in 2011.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday that they would resume their efforts in the coalition airstrikes against ISIS. The emirate’s official news agency says that in re-joining the airstrikes, they “reaffirms [its] unwavering and constant solidarity with Jordan.” The UAE has sent a squadron of F-16 jets to Jordan so that its pilots can fly sorties alongside those from Jordan. In addition to providing additional fighting power, by moving the squadrons to Jordan, they are able to shorten their flight distances and intensify air-strikes against ISIS. The UAE halted their efforts in December after Kasasbeh was shot down during a mission over Syria. It has been reported that the UAE dropped out of the coalition because there were no significant search and rescue assets in place for the recovery of downed planes or fighters.
The UAE says the renewed effort is an attempt to stop “the brutal terrorist organization that showed all of the world its ugliness … through abominable crimes that exposed its false allegations and drew outrage and disgust from the Arab peoples,” according to the news release by WAM, Emirates News Agency. The release also said the initiative comes from the “deep belief in the need for Arab collective cooperation to eliminate terrorism … through the collective encountering of these terrorist gangs and their misleading ideology and brutal practices.”
Even in the midst of the intensified efforts, ISIS today has released a new propaganda video which shows British journalist John Cantlie. The video features an ISIS member calling on Muslims to carry out more attacks in France. Cantile has been held captive for more two years by ISIS militants. He has previously been shown in a range of videos, including a series called “Lend Me Your Ears.”
Cantile speaks about a range of topics, including education, drone strikes and Sharia law. Addressing other Muslims living in France, he urges them to carry out further “lone wolf” strikes. The video is the second documentary-style video in the “Inside…” series, following videos from Kobane, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq. Cantile’s family have called on ISIS to set him free, with Cantlie’s father Paul, 80, sending a message to ISIS appealing for his son’s freedom. He died shortly afterwards. Jessica Cantlie, his sister, has previously appealed for “direct contact” with the extremist militants holding him.
Finally, the US has confirmed that American hostage Cayla Mueller has been killed. Shortly after the Jordan campaign, ISIS released a statement that Jordanian missiles had resulted in the aid worker’s death. The US has not yet confirmed Mueller’s cause of death.
25 November– ISIS has released photographs of a vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) being detonated at the Trebil border complex, near the Karameh border crossing with Jordan. The explosion took place in the Trebil, a village on the in the Anbar province in Iraq. The attack is believed to have killed four and wounded four members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). ISIS overtook the Trebil crossing on 22 June, but was retaken by the Iraqi military two days later. The crossing has remained a contested area.
In Jordan, the momentum of ISIS, coupled with supporters and sleeper cells believed to be inside the kingdom have sparked concerns that the group could enter the borders through “back door” channels. Thus far, it does not appear that ISIS has gained momentum. Jordanian leadership and security forces have developed military, diplomatic, and psychological tactics to repel or halt actions taken by ISIS supporters or fighters.
The Jordanian military is tasked with protecting the Hashemite Kingdom at any cost, and can act to protect national security without the approval of the King. In the past week, over 100 members of the Jordanian military and Special Operation Forces (SOF) have entered Iraq to prevent a forward advance by ISIS. The teams have conducted precision strikes and interrupted ISIS momentum. Inside Jordan’s borders, it is known that there are ISIS sleeper cells in the regions of Zarqa and Ma’an. Jordanian forces have tracked, detained, released, and released suspects, and they remain under watch for collaboration with the terrorist group.
The military has also employed foreign help. Israel is providing overhead imagery to Jordan to use in its fight against ISIS on its borders. On Thursday, the French government deployed six Mirage fighter jets to assist in the ongoing battle. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the deployment would “strengthen our presence in this theater of operations.” The French fighters are expected to join the Jordanian forces at the end of the month.
Diplomatically, Jordanian leadership is working with Chechen leaders in Grozny to seek and capture ISIS fighters. In mid-November, King Abdullah II went to met with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov to discuss counterterrorism issues. A Jordanian official revealed that the leaders reached an agreement: Jordan will invest in Chechnya’s infrastructure, and in exchange, the Chechens will provide information on Chechens and North Caucasians tied to ISIS and other groups in the Syrian battle space. Captured fighters will be returned to Chechnya for prosecution.
Finally, the Jordanian government is developing a counter narrative campaign against ISIS. The nation has employed two powerful clerics, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, also known as Isam Mohammad Taher al-Barqawi, and Abu Qatada, aka Omar Othman. Maqdisi, who was released from Jordanian prison in mid-November, inspired Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , the al-Qaeda leader during the height of the Iraq War. Qatada was transferred from the UK to Jordan in 2013 in order to stand trial for terrorism acts in Jordan. Both clerics have spoken out against the conflict and will likely be used, along with others in an information campaign. However, they will be watched carefully to ensure that the counter narrative does not impose an additional threat vector.
ISIS is attempting to destabilise current governments in order to capture infrastructure and territory, while simultaneously playing on sectarian battles in the region. Jordan’s three pronged approach is likely to keep ISIS at bay in the immediate to mid-term range, but will rely heavily on actions taken by Kurdish, Iraqi, and coalition forces to reduce the threat.
3 November– Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are in discussions to develop a military agreement to combat Islamic militants, with the possibility of a joint force to intervene around the Middle East. The Sunni-dominated nations share a view that the region is threatened by Sunni Islamic militants and Islamist political movements. The military pact goes beyond the current engagements in Iraq and Syria as part of the US-led coalition; aiming to target additional hotbeds of extremist activity. The alliance would focus on Libya and Yemen, where radicalised militants have seized control of territories from their respective governments. Egyptian President Abel Fattah el-Sisi has warned that extremists must be dealt with in several places, and that would require “a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy in the region.” Jordan and Algeria have also been approached to join the alliance.
While the talks remain secret, unnamed Egyptian officials have reported that the discussions are in advanced stages. The alliance is considering the establishment of a core force made up of elite troops, aircrafts, and an intelligence service comprised of members of the alliance. The nations have already held bilateral and multilateral war games the past year in advance of an alliance. Reportedly, there remain differences regarding the size of force, funding, location of headquarters, and whether to seek Arab League or U.N. political cover for operations. If the joint forces cannot be agreed upon, the alliance still aims to coordinate military action for pinpoint anti-militant operations. It is thought that actions such as these have already taken place; Egypt and the UAE are believed to have conducted targeted airstrikes in Libya over the summer, and Egypt has reportedly carried out unilateral strikes in Libya; although the Egyptian government denies involvement in either operation.
The alliance is being discussed as violent clashes intensify in Benghazi as the Libyan army attempts to retake areas seized by Islamist militants. On Monday, extremist fighters hit an oil tanker with a rocket propelled grenade, causing fire and major disruption at Benghazi’s port. The Libyan army asked residents in the central al-Sabri district to evacuate ahead of a major military operation. Over 200 people have been killed and several homes destroyed since the Libyan army began its offensive in October, yet residents are fearful of getting caught in crossfire while travelling.
Libya is currently divided by rival governments. The internationally recognized and recently elected government has taken shelter in Tobruk; Islamist militias that overran Tripoli during the summer have reinstituted the previous Islamist government in Tripoli. The nation is also facing a surplus of warring militias and militant groups, and has become a safe-haven for radicalised fighters.
In Yemen, where the government has been battling one of al-Qaeda’s most active branches for years, the government is also contending with Houthi Shiite rebels. The Houthis successfully overran Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, last month. Saudi Arabia has offered support against the Houthis in 2010, believing that the Shiite Houthis are serving as proxy fighters for Iran.
Pan Arab alliances in the past have not succeeded. However the impetus is strong for the coalition. Saudi Arabia and Egypt face a growing militant threat within their borders, and Gulf nations are eager to keep militant threats away from their borders and foreign interests. The multi-national alliance is also intended to serve as a symbol of unity and strength against the perceived influence of Iran. The nations will seek a nod of approval from the US, however Washington has not yet been privy to the talks.