At first glance, Jordan would appear to be a prime target for the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS). For one, ISIS has struck almost all of Jordan’s neighbors. In May 2015, there was the bloody attack in a Saudi Arabian mosque; in November, a Russian plane in Egypt came under attack. ISIS hit an Iraqi shopping mall in January 2016, and it has targeted Syrian regime troops for two years now. Since 2014, ISIS has killed 18,000 Iraqi civilians. In 2015 alone, it killed approximately 2,000 Syrians.
Further, the Hashemite Kingdom’s economy faces serious challenges, with youth unemployment at 28.8 percent, according to the International Labor Organization’s most recent statistics. The economic situation has surely pushed some of the Jordanians—approximately 2,000—who have left the country to join ISIS, according to government officials. (A Lebanese study recently cited by U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Lumpkin has noted that financial considerations are a significant factor, but certainly not the only one, pushing civilians to enlist in ISIS.)
In other words, the country seems primed for trouble. But ISIS has not carried out a single large-scale attack inside the kingdom. Deaths inside the country from ISIS-linked incidents stand at five at most, even though the attack that led to those deaths is disputed. So what has Jordan done right?
ISIS’ 2015 immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muath Kasasbeh inside Syria was a unifying moment for the country. Whereas a month before the attack only 72 percent of Jordanians believed that ISIS should be considered a terrorist group, after Kasasbeh’s death the proportion jumped to a staggering 95 percent of the population. Jordan’s influential Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, called the killing “heinous” and “criminal.”
Yet popular anger after Kasasbeh’s brutal death cannot entirely explain Amman’s success in avoiding ISIS attacks; after all, the terrorist group has displayed shocking brutality everywhere it goes. The second fact protecting Jordan, then, is the country’s well-trained security services. “Jordan has strong military and security services despite its economic