November 10, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: An Ambush in Amman

• The mass shooting at the Jordan International Police Training Center in Amman that left six people dead and six more wounded on November 9 is one of the worst mass casualty attacks in the country in a decade

• Coming on the ten-year anniversary of the Amman hotel bombings by the Islamic State’s precursor group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, the timing of the mass shooting raises understandable concerns about terrorism in Jordan

• Online supporters of the Islamic State are celebrating the murders, though the group itself has not claimed responsibility

• Whether the motive was terrorism or connected to the shooter’s adverse relationships with the facility and its personnel, the murders highlight the persistent risk of ‘Green on Blue’ attacks between foreign trainers and local trainees or liaisons.


A day of remembrance on the ten-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in Jordan’s history quickly turned into a day of disbelief and horror after a Jordanian police officer turned his gun on personnel at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) in Amman. The attack killed at least six people: three Jordanians, two Americans, and a South African; six more were wounded, some critically. The gunman, Anwar Bani Abdu, a former police captain who had recently been assigned to the JIPTC, was killed by Jordanian security officials.

The timing and the targets of the attack suggest terrorism as a possible motive. On November 9, 2005, the precursor to the so-called Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), conducted three nearly simultaneous suicide attacks against three hotels in Amman. The attacks killed 60 people and wounded more than 100. The attacks completely backfired on AQI, causing the country to rally around the notion of an extremist-free Jordan.

The ten-year anniversary was both a remembrance of those lost as well as a reflection on a time when the country refused to be terrorized. Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, whose suicide vest failed to detonate at the Amman Raddison Hotel and who was sentenced to death for her involvement, was executed last February as part of Jordan’s reaction to the horrific immolation of a Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State. The painful legacy of AQI—and now, the Islamic State—in Jordan, refuses to be buried with the victims, and there is a concern that more victims were added to that legacy in this most recent attack.

Terrorism, of course, is not the only possible motive. Similar attacks in Afghanistan involving U.S. or foreign trainers or advisors and local Afghan recruits or officers have been largely driven by terrorism and extremism, but not entirely. Personal grudges and perceptions of disrespect have led others to kill their ostensible liaison partners. Whether the Amman shooting is terrorism or workplace violence in presently unknown. The power of terrorism, however, stems from the fear it generates, and there is serious concern in Jordan that terrorism has again returned to the small but vital country.

Moving from the tragedy of an attack like this to the broader issue of ‘Green on Blue,’ the crime highlights what might be an overlooked, but perhaps growing, threat of similar attacks as the U.S. and others increase their efforts to train their way to stability in Iraq and Syria. In 2003, U.S. and Jordanian officials established the JIPTC in Amman because it was too dangerous to train new Iraqi police officers in Iraq. Tremendous effort, time, money, and expertise produced thousands of officers with limited skills. This effort, however—like nearly all U.S. efforts to keep Iraq from collapsing after the 2003 invasion—failed to drive meaningful and sustainable country-wide change.

The Jordanian police officer had obviously been a trusted member of a well-regarded security apparatus. Yet he betrayed and murdered his countrymen and liaison partners without being detected ahead of time. The issue of preventing ‘Green on Blue’ attacks becomes almost overwhelming when discussing Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan. In these countries that are ripped apart and divided at every level, it is close to an impossible challenge for the U.S. or coalition partners to adequately vet and weed out recruits that may harbor violent extremist beliefs or those who may snap under duress. The long history of such attacks in Afghanistan shows this all too clearly. As the U.S. increases its presence in Iraq, and especially in Syria with the proposed embed of Special Forces personnel with ‘vetted’ rebel groups, this danger will increase.


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