It was shocking to see Syrian broadcast about the many Salafists arrested, who had taken up the call for jihad in Syria from their sheikhs, are from Zarqa. Reports of Jordanian Salafists continue to arrive from Syria and only on August 23, UPI reported the death of three Salafists from Maan.
Three Jordanian cities witness the presence of Salafist movements: Salt, Maan and Zarqa. However, from the time of Abdullah Azam (the spiritual founder of Al Qaeda) till now, Zarqa has long been a breeding ground and a place for the recruitment of terrorists, as recent history and reports of its degradation show.
A 2005 WikiLeaks cable from the American embassy in Jordan talks about the city as follows: “The city has become a symbol of urban decay, environmental degradation, and political radicalism…. The unplanned warren of streets and alleyways are clogged with traffic…. Perhaps the most famous representative of Zarqa in recent years has been terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi.”
The major common description says that the well known Zarqawi grew up in Zarqa amidst poverty and squalor. He had a troubled childhood where he grew up in Jordan. The two-storey family house, in the poor quarter of Masoum, overlooked the dilapidated town cemetery, which deepened Zarqawi’s fascination in death. It was in the cemetery that he dealt in drugs and hid the spoils of his crime during his troublesome teenage years, and later his explosives and weapons as a terrorist. He was a violent teenager, rebellious and undisciplined, always picking a fight. His father arranged jobs for him, but he never held on to them for long.
With all development efforts recently made in the city, a very recent visit showed there is still lack of basic facilities or human development models. Signs of degradation are everywhere, with rubbish piled up in the streets, no proper services, no decent school, park or playground for children despite the fact that the city has one of the highest birthrates in Jordan.
However, there is one new feature: a mosque was converted from an old house by the addition of a minaret and there, several children could be seen playing with plastic toy weapons.
Given the alert that many terrorists in Syria originate from Zarqa, it is imperative that changes be made here to improve living conditions and prevent the marginalisation or hopelessness that can so often lead to radicalism at its worst.
The situation in Zarqa is well known and should have long sparked off a national security alarm. Evidently there are those who do not want to see the red light flashing. However, security is not the only issue and neither is the alleviation of poverty.
A concerted effort and determination to address the issue of radicalism is badly needed. This might start with taking a long-term approach, with phasing the changes starting from the roots of the problems.
The inability of the policy makers to provide basic services or facilities should be seen as a dramatic failure, especially as such changes are the simplest to achieve, the first rung on the ladder to solving more complex issues.
The wake-up call has come loud and clear: save the city before it is too late. It will not take much for those involved in terrorist activities away from home to shift attention to their place of origin.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh
- Zarqawi’s nephew killed in Yemen drone strike (longwarjournal.org)
- On the Nature of the Hashemite Regime and Jordanian Politics: An Interview with Tariq Tell (Part 1) (jadaliyya.com)
- Jordanian cleric extols jihad at funeral of AQAP fighter (longwarjournal.org)
- CIA Not Very Intelligent (levantnotes.blogspot.com)
- Syria’s civil war spreads terrorism fears in Jordan (thestar.com)
- Hamas cracks down on radical Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip (timesofisrael.com)