Jordanian Fighters in Terrorist Organizations…Conflicting Figures

AKEED, Aya Khawaldeh

Every now and then, media outlets report on the number of Jordanian citizens fighting with terrorist organizations, specifically in Syria and Iraq. The latest instance was a statement by an unnamed Jordanian official, published by the international news agency Reuters, about "around 900 Jordanians currently fighting in Iraq and Syria."

Immediately afterward, many foreign and Arab sites, alongside Jordanian news sites, reported the news. All of them adopted the figure revealed by the official although there are no new studies about the number of Jordanians who are currently with radical organizations in these two countries, which are witnessing political turmoil.

The new figure conflicts with what was stated by other parties, which had announced estimates of the numbers of Arab fighters in these organizations, including Jordanians, based on unscientific studies or analyses that were also reported by the media. Such news whets the appetite of the media, even if the price is lack of professionalism.

In October 2014, former Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said in a lecture in Amman that "the more realistic estimates indicate that the number of fighters with Al-Nusra Front and Daesh is 1300, including 700 citizens who are fighting with Al-Nusra Front."

In February 2015, CNN news website published an "infographic" about the number of foreign fighters arriving in Syria for the purpose of fighting the forces of the Syrian regime since the eruption of the revolution in March 2011, based on studies conducted by centers, such as the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, the Soufan Group, and Pew Research Center. It showed that "Jordan is the third country, statistically, at 1500 fighters."

A report by the Soufan Group, an American firm specialized in strategic security, in January 2016 revealed that the number of foreign fighters in Syria had doubled since 2014, including more than 2000 Jordanians fighting with Daesh, which had control over large areas in Iraq and Syria at the time.

In August 2016, a study conducted by the German Firil Center For Studies showed that "the number of Jordanians under the name of (foreign fighters) in Syria totaled 3900, within five years," between April 2011 and the end of 2015.

Speaking to AKEED, Dr. Mohammad Abu Rumman, who is specialized in Islamic movements and reform issues in Jordan, said that "there is no specific and clear number concerning those who went from Jordan to fight with the armed factions. Several parties might have estimates, but they are not 100% accurate. Many of these parties try to disguise the situation and have no background knowledge about the radical trend. Therefore, how can we confirm their numbers?"

On the extent of credibility of the numbers reported in the media, Abu Rumman says: "Over the past period, an official stated that there are 300 Jordanian fighters, while another put the number at 600. International reports, which are more professional in this field, such as the Soufan Group, said that there are 2000 Jordanians, while Congress estimates went way beyond this. Therefore, this issue remains vague, given the absence of any real data, let alone the security restrictions imposed on the media and on scientific research. Add to this the fact that the number of Jordanians who are killed there remains unknown. This is a knowledge gap, which is also missing from the media."

Abu Rumman believes that such wrong estimates were not the sole responsibility of the media, since it suffers from the lack of neutral or independent sources to carry out verification. Besides, the right to access to information is nonexistent. Such estimates could be available to specific parties."

He noted that there was a government trend to "improve the image of Jordan in the media by referring to the drop in the number of Jordanians with terrorist organizations so that this will not create the impression that it is a source of terrorism." According to Abu Rumman, "facts may not be mixed up with propaganda, even if they include political information."  

AKEED thinks that the interest of media outlets in global issues, such as terrorism, is the motive behind carrying information from numerous sources. This information is sometimes unclear, unspecific, and contradictory. However, the absence of information in this regard and the difficulty of obtaining it is the main factor behind creating this state of contradiction around a certain issue.