Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat—Two of Jordan’s Salafist preachers, Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, can lead Islamist efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Hashemite Kingdom, experts claim.
The newly released preachers, considered respected authorities within Salafist circles, have both condemned ISIS, and are thought to be able to unify Islamist ranks against the jihadist group whose swift expansion in Syria and Iraq poses a serious threat to the north and northeastern borders of Jordan.
In what was seen as the fiercest attack on ISIS delivered by an Islamist figure, Abu Qatada issued a 21-page statement in which he denounced the group’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria, describing the step as “void and meaningless.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Musa Abdullat, a lawyer who represents Islamist political prisoners, said the release of the two preachers marks a turning point for the Salafist movement whose members are split between those who support Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria—the Al-Nusra Front—and those who support ISIS.
The coming days will see calls from within the Salafist movement for a unified stance towards the US-led air strikes targeting ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq, said Abdullat.
However, others warned the air strikes would only earn the notorious group more sympathizers.
In Jordan, ISIS is more popular than the Al-Nusra Front, and the US-led air strikes in Syria and Iraq will increase its acceptance among the Kingdom’s youth, an expert on jihadist groups Marwan Shehadeh told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Shehadeh also warned of reprisals against governments that took part in the US-led campaign against ISIS.
Political analyst and writer Mohammad Abu Rumman said Abu Qatada and Maqdisi are close, and tend to side with the Al-Nusra Front while being fiercely critical of ISIS.
According to Abu Rumman, the two preachers’ criticism of ISIS and their subsequent release have been seen as indicative of some sort of “settlement” between the Jordanian authorities and the Salafist movement.
Nonetheless, according to Abu Rumman, the pair’s severe condemnation of ISIS points to a fundamental shift taking place within the movement, represented by a tendency towards a largely pacifist approach.
“Although both men side with another organization that is organically affiliated to Al-Qaeda, namely Al-Nusra Front,” he said, their onslaught against ISIS points to “revision taking place within Salafist circles, represented by adopting an approach of peaceful da’wa (proselytization) and rejection of staging military operations.”