Dabiq magazine, which is published by supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), recently ran an interview with the captive Jordanian pilot Muadh Al-Kassasbeh. Perhaps the most striking feature of the whole thing was ISIS’s keenness to publish a picture of this young pilot with a stricken look on his face and wearing an orange jumpsuit—a garment commonly worn by convicts in the US. The interview ended with a question about his fate, and Kassasbeh answered that he expects to be killed.
The interview struck an emotional chord with the Jordanian people, and the case of the captured pilot has now become a national issue. More than this, the Jordanian government has opened secret lines of communication in order to try and resolve the case.
The interview with Kassasbeh came hot on the heels of unverified reports of a major split between ISIS leaders on how to deal with the pilot. Some, like the Chechens, favor executing him, while others, like the Iraqis, would prefer to use him as a bargaining chip. While this information cannot be confirmed, ISIS has never carried out an interview such as this with those that it intends to execute. It does not let its victims express themselves, with the exception of a few phrases at their execution. In contrast, we’ve seen a completely different story with the Jordanian pilot.
The interview with the captive Jordanian pilot was published alongside articles describing some of the most prominent Salafist–Jihadist sheikhs in Jordan (such as Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi) as “misleading imams.” In the same issue of Dabiq, there is also an article by someone called Abu Jarir Al-Shamali, which offers a first-person narrative of a portion of his life including a period in which he was a member of in Al-Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden, and then his decision to join ISIS. This story makes reference to places and people in Jordan, including Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
So why is Dabiq, by which we mean ISIS, focusing so much on Jordan? It seems that ISIS, despite its ambitions and its ability to attract supporters from across the world, has a complex about Jordan. The Kingdom of Jordan, of course, is officially participating in the international military coalition against ISIS, and has maintained its opposition to groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Jordan is also the country where Abu Qatada and Al-Maqdisi hail from, and the same goes for the butcher Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. In fact, if we think about it, we can see that the first symbols of Al-Qaeda had strong ties to Jordan, including Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. We should also pay attention to the origin of ISIS from among the followers of Zarqawi, particularly as this is something that Dabiq itself highlighted in its previous issue, placing Zarqawi ahead of other Salafist–jihadist figures. So it is clear that the fatwas issued by Abu Qatada and Maqdisi criticizing ISIS have also angered the group.
While the Levant seems to be increasingly falling under the sway of ISIS and its followers, Jordan ‘s domestic scene is relatively balanced. ISIS ideology is present among Jordan’s Salafist–Jihadist circles, and many Al-Qaeda leaders and members have been Jordanian nationals. Despite this, it seems that Jordan has found it easy to deal with these groups, perhaps explaining the recent fixation on Jordan in ISIS media platforms such as Dabiq.
ISIS’s focus on Jordan could also be influenced by the country’s willingness to negotiate over the fate of its captured pilot. It will not be easy for Jordan to secure the release of their pilot by agreeing to release figures such as Iraqi national Sajidah Al-Rishawi, who tried to blow up a hotel in Amman 10 years ago. At the same time, it will not be easy for ISIS to execute the pilot, particularly as it will not want to throw away the negotiating channel that has been opened for it.
Dabiq has said that ISIS’s eye is on Jordan—but clearly not just on the Jordanian authorities, also its Salafist–Jihadist sheikhs.