Jordan's security services gamble on Maqdisi

Jordan's security services gamble on Maqdisi
4 min read
07 February, 2015
Analysis: With the release of one of the world's most influential jihadi theorists from jail, officials are hoping he can help win the ideological war against the Islamic State group.
Maqdisi was released from jail on Thursday [Getty]
From December 24 until Thursday, the day he was released, the world's most prominent ideologue of Salafi-Jihadism, Jordan's Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi, was in touch from his jail cell with a global network of jihadist groups in a bid to secure the release of the Jordanian fighter pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh.

Maqdisi's efforts failed, however. Or, more accurately, the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) failed the man who is seen by many as "the godfather" of jihadists worldwide, closing the book on all negotiations with
the brutal immolation of the pilot.

Yet what is certain is that that Maqdisi - born Asim Barqawi - had achieved nothing short of a miracle when he was able to reach the leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
and the spokesman for the group, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.

Entire governments and armies, with their intelligence capabilities, drones, and guided missiles, can't find Baghdadi and Adnani. But Maqdisi did. From inside a jail cell.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Jordanian authorities rewarded him with his freedom.
     I contacted their wise men - if there are any.
- Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi

It is thought that Jordanian officials asked him to make contact with IS leaders as soon as he was detained.

Help from the inside

The Jordanian security services were right on the mark when they sought help from Maqdisi. They had detained on October 27, 2014, on the back of statements he made and published on the Jihad Wal Tawhid online forum.

Maqdisi described the international coalition's airstrikes on IS as a "crusade", inviting charges of "using the world wide web to promote the ideas of terrorist groups" under the Jordanian anti-terrorism law.

The law comes under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court, and carries punishment of up to three years imprisonment.

On Friday, Maqdisi appeared on Ru'ya TV to speak about his
mediation efforts. The interview was reportedly pre-approved by Jordan's security services who are understandably keen to discredit the IS group among sympathising youth. It is understood that the country's intelligence agencies have asked him not to agree to any further interviews without their green light.

Disappointment was obvious on his face, as he revealed his ability to communicate with the world's top jihadis and IS leaders.

At the same time, Maqdisi tried to deny there was a deal with his former jailers.

"I have communicated with mujahideen from the Islamic Maghreb, Yemen, Syria, and Kuwait," he said. "They helped me and delivered messages to the group. I contacted IS, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, trying to serve what is in the interest of Sharia goals.

"I contacted their wise men, if there are any."

Lies and betrayal

Maqdisi expressed regret that IS leaders lied to him, as he
said, since they are believed to have already executed the pilot, shortly after his capture.

Maqdisi said their acts "distort the jihad... and paint religion in red".

The Salafi-Jihadist ideologue also questioned IS' sense of justice.

"People do not see trials. They only see beheadings and immolations, even though the Prophet prohibited torturing people with fire."

Maqdisi, despite his ideological conflict with IS, is opposed to the war on the group waged by the international coalition. However, perhaps as part of the deal to release him, he did not mention it in the interview, save for asking IS: "By burning Moaz, have you fended off the coalition? No, it has come down harder on you."

A new enemy

The 56-year-old suggested that his ideological war with IS would be stepped up, and admitted that he had been lenient in his criticisms of IS, to avoid antagonising the youths who joined IS dreaming of the caliphate.

IS' caliphate is "a distortion of the history of the Muslims", he said.

Maqdisi - described by the United States Military Academy as "the most influential living jihadi theorist - is again a free man.

Although he is known to not abide by any commitments imposed on him by the Jordanian authorities, officials are betting that his release would help their cause.

     People do not see trials. They only see beheadings and immolations.
- Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi

The bitterness he feels from being let down by yesterday's comrades may lead him to break his silence, and use a much sharper tone against IS, something that could resonate with a broad segment of Salafi-Jihadists around the world.

Stepping up the fight

Maqdisi was not the only one to appear on television. On Friday evening, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh was interviewed by CNN.

Judeh said the airstrikes Jordan carried out against IS positions on Thursday were only the beginning of his country's retaliation for the execution of the Jordanian pilot.

When asked about whether his government was prepared for the possibility of waging a ground operation against IS, Judeh said the effort against IS "will require everything", including the military response and the need to fight the ideology of the group in the long run.

In parallel, Jordan has stepped up its military presence along the border with Iraq.

Sources in the border police in the Anbar province in western Iraq say Jordanian military convoys were seen moving in the direction of the Iraqi border, where they took positions in the Rowaished region opposite the Iraqi village of Trebil.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.