Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Poverty a threat to stability in Jordan, fueling militancy

Published:Friday | February 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Jordanians chant slogans to show their support for the government against terror during a rally in Amman, Jordan yesterday

AMMAN, Jordan (AP):

In Amman's Hussein slum, where jobs and hope are scarce, many were once drawn to the militant ideas of the Islamic State group as a way to a better life.

A video showing a Jordanian pilot being burnt to death triggered a national backlash against the extremists, including in Hussein, which is home to about 40,000 Palestinian and Syrian war refugees and their descendants.

But public opinion can be fickle, and some experts say the festering problems that feed militancy across the region, such as high unemployment, remain a threat to the stability of Jordan, a key US ally. The government's approach - arresting IS sympathisers at home and bombing its strongholds in Syria and Iraq - is not enough to combat extremism, they say.

"Poverty, isolation, feeling left out of development drive a lot of the grievances among the youth," said Sultan Barakat, a Jordan expert at the Brookings Doha Center. Among these groups, anger at IS will eventually make way again for the appeal of jihadi ideas, he said.

The pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, was captured in December after his F-16 crashed into Islamic State-controlled territory in northern Syria. Earlier this week, the militants released a video showing him being burnt to death in an outdoor cage.

In the Hussein neighborhood, residents rallied behind the government's pledge of a "harsh" response against the militants. Jordan has been carrying out airstrikes against IS since September, as part of a US-led military coalition.

"Everyone was angry here," said Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, who sells coffee from a small roadside stall. He and two friends, sipping black coffee from paper cups, said they watched the video repeatedly. One in the group, 22-year-old Mahmoud Khaled, said it gave him nightmares.

A white banner strung across a garbage-strewn alley declared that the local youth club "condemns the crimes" against the pilot. A delegation from the neighborhood - considered a refugee camp, although it is blended into the city - drove to the pilot's home village in southern Jordan on Thursday to express condolences to his family.

Emad Issayed, head of the neighborhood council, said there had been widespread sympathy for the Islamic State group in Hussein before the pilot was killed.

"They had new ideas, new projects," he said of the appeal of the militants, who declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in areas under their control last year. "People believed they (the militants) represented an Islamic way of life and could improve their lives, as well."