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2002-11-21 13:05:00
Embassy Amman
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						S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 006823 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/21/2012

REF: A. AMMAN 6535

B. AMMAN 6650

Classified By: Amb. Edward W. Gnehm for reasons 1.5 (B) and (D)


1. (S) The winding down but not quite completed security
operation in Ma'an against Islamic militant leader Mohammed
Shalibi (aka Abu Sayyaf - refs) has been a decidedly
unsatisfying operation from the standpoint of most
Jordanians. For the government and its staunch supporters,
the week-long operation clearly demonstrated government
resolve not to permit an armed group to challenge its
authority, led to the confiscation of some explosives and
heavy weapons, and broke up a group that might have used
them. It may in the short term reduce the incidents of
gangsterism committed by Abu Sayyaf's group in Ma'an, acts
often carried out in the name of an extremist Islam at odds
with the moderate beliefs of most Jordanians (although
tolerated by most Ma'anis). However, the operation did not
lead to the arrest of Abu Sayyaf, and netted only a few of
his supporters. It also cost at least five lives, two of the
dead policemen involved in the operation. Some young members
of the dead policemen's tribe allegedly blamed the government
for putting their kinsmen into a dangerous situation, and
attacked a police station in a village near the city of
Kerak. (Leaders of the tribe subsequently declared the
policemen martyrs and reaffirmed the tribe's loyalty to King
and country). Perhaps most seriously, the militants killed
in the operation could become martyrs.




2. (S) From the standpoint of the citizens of Ma'an, a
semblance of order has been restored, and an armed group that
had previously attacked a police station, taken over the
hospital, and vandalized the women's dormitory at the local
university has at least been pushed into hiding. In
addition, a November 17 visit to Ma'an of five Ministers, and
the announcement of a modest increase in money for Ma'an
development projects, indicates that the city could get
greater government attention and support. (The announced
program amounts to quick fixes, but longer-term projects in
the planning stages, such as irrigation and waste disposal,
may help over time. The government has not shown much
interest, though, in addressing the Ma'anis' firm conviction
that they are not getting their fair share of water.)

3. (S) However, Ma'anis were forced to endure a week of
siege, closed schools and businesses, and house to house
searches. Furthermore, contacts in Ma'an indicate that many
in the city consider Abu Sayyaf -- a former government Imam
who was fired because of his fiery mosque sermons -- to be a
devout Muslim who incurred the wrath of the government by

publicizing official corruption. Foreign correspondents who
were taken into Ma'an earlier this week -- as well as embassy
contacts with connections to Ma'an -- report many expressions
of local anger over the government's use of force. Outside
of Ma'an, many Jordanians question the timing of the
operation, variously tying the raid to a perceived need to
show the U.S. that the GOJ is moving against Islamic
militants, working hard to catch the killers of Larry Foley,
or demonstrating that it will not tolerate public disorder as
violence in the West Bank escalates and a war in Iraq looms.

4. (S) Many contacts applaud the government's goal in Ma'an
-- getting rid of an armed band that thought itself above the
law -- but fault its tactics. The Ma'an and Amman rumor
mills are rife with unflattering (and unconfirmed) stories of
bad conduct by police and security forces during the Ma'an
operation. Families of arrested militants have accused
security forces of looting their houses of jewelry and other
valuables during the searches. "Eyewitnesses" from Ma'an
swear that they saw Jordanian army helicopters firing
missiles into houses held by militants. Even though this
allegation is probably not true, it conjures up for most
Jordanians images of Israeli helicopters attacking
Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza. That a
significant number of Jordanians are describing the Ma'an
operation in these terms should be of concern to the

5. (S) We note that, despite these widespread but vague
rumors of excesses, we have not heard allegations that
non-militants were targeted, injured or killed. One
independent observer who was allowed to tour the city freely
on November 18 scoffed at rumors of "war damage" to Ma'an.
He found evidence of gunfights, but nothing to support the
stories about widespread destruction, much less government
use of missiles or heavy weapons. Although press reports
indicate that the government has referred sixty-six
individuals rounded up in Ma'an to the State Security Court
for possible prosecution, the government quickly released a
number of others -- including non-Jordanians -- who had no
connection to Abu Sayyaf. The short detention of the local
correspondent for al-Jazeera and one of his relatives may
have contributed to the largely negative coverage of events
in Ma'an on the pan-Arab media.




6. (S) Several GOJ officials have argued to us that the
resort to force in Ma'an was certainly not ideal, but was
forced on the government by the militants. Abu Sayyaf and
his group posed a direct and armed challenge to government
authority in Ma'an -- the group possessed heavy weapons and
explosives, engaged in a gun battle with police to gain Abu
Sayyaf's release, commandeered a local hospital at gunpoint
to secure him medical treatment, and Abu Sayyaf made public
statements that he would not submit to the illegitimate
government authorities without a fight. With a well-armed
and defiant Abu Sayyaf gang essentially running free in
Ma'an, the government was put in the unenviable position of
having to consider the use of force against some of its own
citizens. Abu Sayyaf's direct public challenge to royal
authority -- a slap at the honor of the King -- virtually
assured that the government would take some action.

7. (S) Jordanians outside of Ma'an express little sympathy
for Abu Sayyaf's Islamic militants, and the militants'
message of armed resistance to the government does not seem
to be resonating in other parts of the country. Most
recognize that they were an armed gang that had challenged
governmental authority and Jordan's stability.

8. (S) Conversely, however, most Jordanians are not
comfortable with the government's use of force. Many
Jordanians would have preferred that the government put more
time and energy into pressing local leaders to come up with a
proper "tribal" solution, one that would have resulted in a
reaffirmation of government authority, and custody and trial
of Abu Sayyaf and his lieutenants, but would have avoided
laying siege to Ma'an. Several sources indicate that the
anger of many Ma'anis is being specifically directed against
the King by name -- a likely formula for further trouble,
since the security forces will not stand for open disloyalty.
However, since the message of the militants is not spreading
outside of Ma'an, Jordanians are likely to see this episode
-- like bread and gas price riots in 1989 and 1996 -- as just
another sad chapter in the history of Jordan's most
politically volatile city.