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Jan 10, 2006 | 00:44 GMT

5 mins read

Embassy Closures in Jordan: The Militant Threat Remains

The Australian and Canadian embassies in Amman, Jordan, closed Jan. 8, a day after Britain closed its embassy in Amman, citing indications that terrorists were in the "advanced stages" of planning an attack against Westerners in the country. Although the U.S. Embassy remains open, the State Department issued a Warden Message on Jan. 7 advising U.S. citizens of "ongoing security concerns" in Jordan. For their part, Jordanian officials said they have analyzed the threat indicators and that they do not believe the closures were warranted. This is a standard reaction from governments in the region — such as was seen after the Dec. 30 closure of the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia — that hope to downplay the threat in order to safeguard the reputation of their security forces and also to avoid investor flight. The Western governments' actions could indicate a lack of confidence in the ability of Jordan's intelligence service, the General Intelligence Department (GID), to prevent new militant attacks. Although the GID has thwarted attacks against hotels in Jordan in the past, it was unable to prevent the Nov. 9, 2005, suicide bombings at three hotels in Amman, and the Aug. 19, 2005, rocket attack against U.S. Navy ships in Aqaba harbor — which missed their mark. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for both actions. As a moderate Arab state and longtime U.S. ally — and, perhaps more significantly, a country with ties to Israel — Jordan has often been the focus of Islamist animosity. Furthermore, it has become a target-rich environment for militants, especially since U.S. and foreign multinational corporations began using it in 2003 as a hub for reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Today, Amman hotels are full of Westerners working for these corporations, and many multinationals also have offices in Jordan staffed by personnel who oversee much of the work being done in Iraq — as Iraq is considered too dangerous for administrative staff. Some of the corporations have been subjected to hostile surveillance in the past. If Western embassies are being targeted, their reaction to the threat could have two possible outcomes. First, any planned attack will have to be put on hold until security is once again relaxed. Or, if an operation against an embassy or other hardened target indeed was in the latter stages of the attack cycle — with explosives, vehicles and operatives already in place — the attackers might now be forced to choose a softer target, such as a hotel, theater, school or residential area. The U.S. Embassy in Amman is an "Inman building" designed to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack. The Inman designation means a building's architecture includes security features recommended by a commission chaired by former Deputy CIA Director Adm. Bobby Inman following the 1983 attacks in Beirut, Lebanon. These features include few windows, anti-vehicle barriers and long stand-off distances to the building. Because of these and other protective measures, jihadists have to a large degree shifted from hardened targets such as embassies to softer targets such as hotels. Since the hotel attacks in Amman, many hotels in that city have made efforts to increase their security, which could lead militants to search for even softer targets elsewhere — such as the attacks against restaurants in Bali, Indonesia. U.S. Embassy personnel in Amman reside outside the embassy compound in dwellings scattered around the city. With the embassy hardened and no one housing compound to attack, a mass-casualty attack would be more difficult, although the risk of kidnapping and killing remains. In October 2002, Lawrence Foley, a United States Agency for International Development executive officer, was gunned down outside his home in a middle-class residential area in the western part of Amman. Jordanian officials have long claimed that Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi masterminded Foley's killing. Al-Zarqawi, the acknowledged leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, already has displayed his interest in operating in Jordan. Furthermore, although his family and tribe disowned him after the Nov. 9 attacks, he likely maintains longstanding relationships there. The response by Jordanian security in the aftermath of those attacks would have made conditions in the country more difficult for militants to operate, but vigilance has relaxed since then. The embassy closures provide strong evidence that al-Zarqawi's network and infrastructure in Jordan has not been fully eliminated — which could mean that more attacks are being planned. Despite increase security, the region's borders remain porous, meaning movement of militants from Iraq to Jordan is still possible. Furthermore, as we have said in the past, Iraq does not appear to be running short on suicide operatives or ordnance in Iraq. For his part, al-Zarqawi is unlikely to give up on his new Jordanian operations. He has long been an opponent of the régime of King Abdullah II, and has often spoken of expanding his jihadist operations beyond Iraq's borders. Given the country's history and the recent militant attention toward it, Western embassies and multinationals in Jordan will continue to be at risk. Because of this threat, countersurveillance efforts will be vital.

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