Jordan Closes Border to Syrian Refugees After Suicide Car Bomb Kills 6
Rana F. Sweis, The New York Times
21 June 2016
Image: Jordanian soldiers and relatives of Jordanian soldier Belal Al-Zuhbi carry his coffin near the city of Jerash, north of Amman, Jordan, Tuesday, June 21, 2016. A suicide attacker driving a truck packed with explosives barreled through Syria’s border with Jordan, setting off a blast that killed six members of the Jordanian security forces and wounded 14. A government spokesman says Jordan is sealing the border area, leaving it unclear how international aid will reach some 64,000 Syrian refugees stranded on the other side. It was the deadliest attack along the tense border in recent memory. (Raad Adayleh/Associated Press)
AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan sealed its last entry points for Syrian refugees on Tuesday after a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb in a no-man’s land on the border, killing four Jordanian soldiers, a police officer and a civil defense officer.
The attack took place about 5:30 a.m. on the sand berm marking the frontier between the countries, near a refugee camp where an estimated 60,000 people have been living in harsh conditions.
The Jordanian military said in a statement that the car carrying explosives had struck a military post in the buffer zone at the border after approaching from the refugee camp, and that Jordanian forces opened fire. The vehicle exploded, the statement said, killing the security personnel and wounding 14 others.
The statement, released several hours later by the Jordanian Armed Forces, declared the northern and northeastern borders a military zone and warned that any movement of vehicles or individuals there without permission would be seen as a hostile act.
“We are closing the area and considering it a military zone,” said Mohammad Momani, a government spokesman. “We are also not building nor expanding any existing refugee camps and we call upon the international community to understand our sovereign measures and our need to take this measure in order to maintain our security and stability.”
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred at the border crossing at Rukban, Jordan.
On June 6, three officers of the Jordanian intelligence service and two other employees were killed at an intelligence service office in a Palestinian refugee camp near Amman, the capital, in what the government said was a terrorist attack.
Terrorist attacks in Jordan, a crucial ally of the United States in the region, are relatively rare, but the country is constantly on alert because of the threat posed by Islamic extremists, notably from the Islamic State.
King Abdullah II of Jordan said in a statement that “anyone who assaults or attempts to harm Jordan’s security and unity will be met with an iron fist,” and the military vowed that it would continue to fight terrorists and “their dark minds.”
For more than a year, refugees have been fleeing the civil war in Syria and making their way to the Syrian side of the berm, which was once known for little more than desert sand, scorpions and snakes but is now a populated area vulnerable to smugglers, human traffickers and drug dealers.
The area is home to a demilitarized zone that prevents people from crossing into Jordan but gives relief agencies a place to provide assistance to refugees. A sprawling informal camp on the Syrian side of the border has grown to house tens of thousands of people who fled conflict in places like Aleppo, Homs and Palmyra.
Jordan has cited security and economic concerns tied to the refugees, some of whom come from areas controlled by the Islamic State, in refusing to allow them to cross the border.
The country had been allowing 200 to 300 refugees from the border area into the country each day, but only after they are subjected to thorough security screenings — and after immense pressure from other countries.
Jordan has taken in more than 650,000 Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency. A majority of them live outside the refugee camps.
Despite the alarming numbers at the berm, aid agencies and the government have been wary of speaking publicly about the refugee situation on the border because they did not want to anger the Jordanian government.
Ariane Rummery, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, said that no staff members had been injured.
“The attack underlines how challenging a relief operation is at the berm,” she said, before the border was closed. “We remain concerned about the security situation for those living there and humanitarian agencies working there.”
Officials said that earlier this month arrests had been made in the killings at the intelligence service office, but most of the details about that attack remain unclear because of a gag order issued by the authorities.
The intelligence office was part of the country’s General Intelligence Directorate, making it a particularly significant target for militants.
Last November, at least five people, including two American trainers, were killed at an Amman training compound by a Jordanian police officer who fired on them before he was shot and killed, the government said.
A recently published poll by the International Republican Institute found that attitudes in Jordan toward the Islamic State were hardening.
Eighty-nine percent of those polled said they considered the extremist group to be a terrorist organization. Support for the international coalition against the militants is also growing — 80 percent backed the intervention to a large or moderate degree, compared with 75 percent in 2015, according to the poll.
© 2016, The New York Times
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