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Jordan fears Iraqi unrest may spill over

The Sunni militant offensive in Iraq has sparked fears in Amman that they will take the fight to Jordan, which is already struggling with its own home-grown Islamists.

AMMAN: The Sunni militant offensive in Iraq has sparked fears in Amman that they will take the fight to Jordan, which is already struggling with its own home-grown Islamists.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a powerful jihadist group that controls key areas of Syria, has seized a swathe of Iraqi territory in a lightning offensive Baghdad's forces seem powerless to halt.

Experts fear Jordan could be one of ISIL's next targets, with YouTube videos purporting to show the group threatening to take jihad there.

Already reeling under the impact of hosting more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, Jordan has long faced security challenges in dealing with its own jihadists, many of whom have joined ISIL and other Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Iraq and Syria.

"Only the ignorant or those in denial would think that ISIL does not have supporters in Jordan. How do they explain the presence of 2,000 Jordanian jihadists in Syria and Iraq?" Oraib Rantawi, head of Amman's Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

On Friday, Islamists demonstrated in the restive southern city of Maan, a hotbed of Islamism, praising ISIL "victories" in Iraq, sources said.

"Jordan needs to worry a lot. ISIL is very organised and strong. The group plans to extend its circle to target and include the kingdom," Hassan Abu Hanieh, an expert on Islamist groups, told AFP.

US President Barack Obama has warned the militant offensive could spread.

"That could spill over into some of our allies like Jordan," he said in an interview Sunday on CBS television's "Face the Nation".

One recent YouTube video shows an ISIL fighter tearing up a Jordanian passport.

"I have a message to the tyrant of Jordan: we are coming to you with death and explosive belts," he said.

Jordan's jihadist movement is generally dominated by anti-ISIL groups that support Al-Qaeda and its Syrian ally Al-Nusra Front, ISIL's rival.

Jihadist ideologues and Salafist leaders in the country have joined Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in denouncing ISIL brutality.

Last week, six suspected ISIL followers attacked Iyad al-Quneibi, an outspoken critic of the group, and smashed his car, highlighting inter-Islamist rivalries.

The university professor, seen as pro-Nusra, did not blame anyone, but Salafist leaders and others pointed the finger at ISIL.

"We are not in touch with ISIL, but there is no doubt it has many backers in Jordan," Mohammad Shalabi, a Jordanian Salafist leader better known as Abu Sayyaf, told AFP from jail.

"We are happy to see the tyrannical regimes in Iraq and Syria fall.

"In Iraq, it is a fight between good and evil, and we pray to God that any issues will vanish, paving the way for the creation of Islamic Caliphate."

Mohammed Abu Rumman, a researcher at the University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies, said ISIL support is growing.

"It is dangerous and this should make the Jordanian authorities concerned," he told AFP.

"These developments impose big security and strategic challenges on Jordan. It is a nightmare."

According to global intelligence firm Stratfor, the ISIL's "intent to expand into Jordan follows the region's geopolitical logic".

"After its push into Iraq, and already controlling significant swathes of Syrian territory, the jihadist group can try to push into the kingdom... Jordan is the only opening available to ISIL," Stratfor said on its website.

But ISIL still faces considerable challenges, it added.

"The Jordanian regime is far more stable than Syria or Iraq, and its security forces have proved to be quite effective. Furthermore, Jordan has strong backing from the United States and Saudi Arabia."

Jordan takes such warnings seriously.

"The country is monitoring the crisis with great concern," information minister and government spokesman Mohammad Momani said after unconfirmed reports the militants had seized the Iraqi side of the border crossing with Jordan.

"Jordan's army has enhanced security measures on the border," he said.

Analysts warn that the threat is growing.

"Jordan is worried because there is a jihadist crescent now surrounding the kingdom. It is a very serious threat," said Rantawi.

In an attempt to counter the influence of Jordanian Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists fighting in Syria, Amman in April approved a tough anti-terrorism law and arrested scores on their return.

"The key thing to bear in mind is that while it can carry out terrorist attacks in Jordan, there are too many constraints for the group (ISIL) to act in Jordan as it has in Syria and Iraq," Stratfor said.

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