Gatekeeper of the Jihad

Al-Qaramseh Center is a sparsely furnished meeting hall a short ride down a potholed road in the southern Jordanian city of Ma’an. We arrived at dusk, as the call to prayer rose into the darkening sky. Across the street from the center, a small group of men headed into a mosque for the fourth prayer of the day.

Stepping out of our car, we saw the unmistakable jihadist black banner declaring that “There is no God but God” hanging from the top of the meeting hall. We had made the three-hour drive south from the capital of Amman last month at the invitation of Mohammad al-Shalabi, a leader in Jordan’s Salafist jihadist movement who is better known as Abu Sayyaf. He was so eager to be interviewed that he went out of his way to invite us to attend a funeral at this center. The event was not supposed to be a sad occasion — rather, it was billed as a ceremony to “accept congratulations” for what we learned to be the suicide operation of Muhammad Monzar Abu ‘Aoura, a 25-year old Jordanian fighter for Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, in the southern Syrian province of Daraa.

This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.