Apr. 21, 2014
(Reuters) – Jordanian Islamist Ahmad Mahmoud fought with rebels in Syria for six weeks earlier this year, then slipped back across the border to seek treatment for a war wound – even though the authorities had warned him not to return.
Within a week the bearded 23-year-old fighter found himself in the dock at a military court, facing terrorism charges filed by authorities who are taking an increasingly tough stance against homegrown militants fighting in Syria’s civil war.
Their rising numbers have rattled the Hashemite kingdom, a U.S. ally against Islamist militancy. Amman treats returning jihadists as a security threat to be nipped in the bud and, with an eye to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s potential to tough out the uprising against him, wants to keep channels open to a government with which it retains diplomatic and trade ties.
Three years into Syria’s civil war a growing number of Jordanian jihadists are coming home, some disillusioned by infighting within rebel ranks, others seeking a break from a draining and largely inconclusive conflict.
Up to a few months ago, Jordanian authorities were more discriminating with returning fighters, sometimes freeing “first-time offenders” who were deemed misguided after expressing regret for their actions.
Now, every detained returnee is whisked straight to court, although none have been accused of plotting attacks in Jordan.