Everyone in Zarqa knows someone who has gone to fight in Syria or Iraq and, in recent years, funeral tents to mourn the deaths of young men have appeared with increasing regularity.
Like Muath al-Kasaesbeh, the pilot burnt to death by Isis, they are referred to as martyrs – but unlike him they died fighting alongside the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra and Isis.
Tens of thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of the capital, Amman, yesterday, demanding revenge for the pilot’s murder. But behind the scenes the government still has trouble suppressing sympathies among some Jordanians for Isis.
An hour to the north of Amman, Zarqa is a military town. But it also provides many jihadist fighters for Isis. This town is where the greatest ideologues of Jordanian jihadi Islam hail from. Abu Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, took his nom de guerre from the town. And Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, the jihadist ideologue released from a Jordanian jail on Thursday, also hails from Zarqa.
Some 1,500 Jordanians have gone to fight in Syria, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Science estimates.
Some in Zarqa feel that fighting in Syria is a duty. “Syria is ours and we have to get it back; it’s for Muslims,” says Sheikh Salah Abdel Abu Rahman. He said targeting of salafis – fundamentalist zealots – by Jordan’s security services means they are unable to find jobs. Naturally, fighting in Syria was an attractive alternative, he told The Independent. “Why not join Jabhat al Nusra and Daesh (the common Arab nickname for Isis) if they give him money and a fine life there?”
A poll late last year, but before Lt Kasaesbeh was taken prisoner, found 10 per cent of Jordanians did not consider Isis a terrorist organisation. The country’s education ministry has tried to counter the glamorous image that Isis presents of itself in its slick videos by publishing its own booklets with titles like “An Open Letter to Ibrahim al-Badri, aka al-Baghdadi”.
The text, a thesis by 120 Islamic scholars, is not easy reading for school pupils.
In pictures: Anti-Isis protests in Jordan
In pictures: Anti-Isis protests in Jordan
1/15 Amman, Jordan
Members of Jordan's Al Assaf tribe burn a ''Wanted Dead'' poster of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi at a rally
2/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanian protesters carry an effigy of leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, during a march after Friday prayers in downtown Amman
3/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanian Queen Rania (C) holds a placard during a demonstration to express solidarity with the pilot murdered by the Islamic State
4/15 Amman, Jordan
A protester dressed in a Jordanian flag joins others as they hold up pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah and Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, while chanting slogans during a march against Islamic State
5/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians hold banners shouting slogans during a demonstration to express their solidarity with the pilot murdered by the Islamic State
6/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians carry banners and pictures of executed Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kassasbeh while shouting slogans against the group calling themselves the Islamic State, during a march after noon pray in downtown Amman
7/15 Amman, Jordan
Protesters hold up pictures of Jordan's King Abdullah and pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh as they chant slogans during a rally in Amman to show their loyalty to the King and against the Islamic State
8/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians chant slogans to show their support for the government against terror during a rally
9/15 Amman, Jordan
Jawdat al-Kaseasbeh, a brother of slain Jordanians pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, reacts to people gathering to show their support for the government against terror during a rally
10/15 Amman, Jordan
A Jordanian protester kisses a poster bearing the image of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh during a rally to show their loyalty to King Abdullah and against the Islamic State
11/15 Amman, Jordan
A Jordanian shouts slogans during a rally against the Islamic state group and in reaction to the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh by the group's militants
12/15 Amman, Jordan
Jordanians carry pictures of pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh at a protest against Islamic State
13/15 Amman, Jordan
Supporters and family members of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh express their anger at his murder at the tribal gathering chamber in Amman, Jordan
14/15 Aye Village, Karak, Jordan
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II (L), embracing Safi al-Kassasbeh (R), the father of the recently executed Jordanian pilot
15/15 Aye Village, Karak, Jordan
Jordan's Queen Rania offers her condolences to the family of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, at their family home of Muath
REUTERS/Petra News Agency
“People look at Daesh and see an idealisation of Islam,” said Abdullah, a first-year university student. “It’s normal to sympathise with them,” he said. But that was until the murder of Lt Kasaesbeh. “This is not Islam,” he said.
Ahmed al-Omaris was also in favour of Isis until it chose to employ fire to kill Lt Kasaesbeh. “They are against Yazidis and Shia,” he said approvingly. But now, he added, he couldn’t support them any more.
Some fighters are said to be having second thoughts. “I have heard about three people who have returned from fighting with Daesh after the news of Muath broke,” said Mohammed, 20. Not true, said his friend, Labib, 20, who is also unemployed. People will always keep joining up. “They are poor, they are badly educated. They think they have found their calling. And they get paid a lot of money.”
Unemployment is nearly 30 per cent among men under 25 throughout Jordan.
Khaled Taha, a chemistry teacher, sees the thoughts of Isis in his 16, 17 and 18-year old students. None has yet disappeared off to Syria yet, he says, but it’s only a matter of time.Reuse content