Spreading the disease: Militants blend in with refugees to infiltrate Syria's neighbor

From the Associated Press

By Karin Laub

Militants have tried to sneak into Jordan from Syria by blending in with Syrian refugees, while smugglers have stepped up efforts to bring weapons and drugs into the kingdom, the commander of Jordan’s Border Guard said in an interview Sunday.

Brig. Gen. Saber al-Mahayreh is commander of Jordan's Border Guard.

Brig. Gen. Saber al-Mahayreh is commander of Jordan's Border Guard.

Over the past year, Western ally Jordan has been thrust onto the front lines of the battle against Islamic State extremists who have seized one-third of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan’s role, including participation in a U.S.-led campaign of air strikes on IS targets, has raised concerns the kingdom could be targeted by the militants.

The commander of the Border Guard, Brig. Gen. Saber al-Mahayreh, told The Associated Press that his forces have so far blocked all infiltrators and smugglers, but that he expects more attempts because of the deteriorating security situation in Syria and Iraq.

This month, Syrian smugglers were intercepted by his forces with more than one ton of drugs, including hashish, and automatic weapons, he said, adding that it was one of the largest busts to date.

Jordan’s borders are monitored by a partially U.S.-funded surveillance system of drones, radar and watch towers that can “spot a rabbit” trying to cross into the country, the commander said.

Border guards can potentially detect suspected infiltrators as far as 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border, he said. The images sent back from the border area are monitored in operations rooms in Jordan, including at the Border Guard headquarters on the outskirts of the northern town of Zarqa.

“It is not possible for any terrorist groups to enter Jordan,” he said at the headquarters…..

The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests and escalated into a civil war after a brutal government crackdown. More than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, including about 630,000 who settled in Jordan. In Iraq, weakened by sectarian strife, Islamic State launched its swift land grab a year ago.

At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2012 and 2013, hundreds entered Jordan every day at informal crossing points along the border.

Since then, Jordan has tightened control, reducing the number of potential entry points from 45 to five, including three along the western stretch of the border for wounded people and two on the eastern stretch for refugees, said another border officer, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

Jordan strictly screens refugees because of security concerns, said al-Mahayreh, the commander.

“Sometimes, terrorist groups try to enter (Jordan) among the refugees, as individuals, and exploit the refugees,” he said. Jordan’s security is a priority and refugees are questioned and searched to weed out potential militants, he said.


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