Al-Karak Attack – December 18, 2016

In 2016 on this day, Islamist extremists attacked the Jordanian city of Karak killing ten people, including a Canadian tourist.

For Islamist terrorists the Crusades are still a motivator: what better place to attack than an old Crusader fort?

When terrorists seek out targets they have a number of criteria in mind. The chosen place should be one where there is some possibility of success: there is no point attacking a fortress where the assailants are guaranteed nothing but their own deaths (unless martyrdom is the goal even if you do not take anyone with you).

A second consideration would be having a lot of potential victims on hand. Most groups want to kill as many people as possible both to ensure they are the first item on the nightly news as well as to instill fear and terror among those watching.

A third consideration would be to choose a target that is iconic or symbolic. 9/11 comes immediately to mind. The two towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and – if true – the White House are all venues packed with meaning, the choice of which was to strike at the psyche of Americans.

2016 Al-Karak attack

In 2016 on this day, Islamist extremists attacked an interesting target: the Jordanian city of Karak, 120 km south of the capital city, Amman. Ten people, including a Canadian tourist, were killed when gunmen opened fire and later took hostages. The terrorists later found their way to the Karak Castle where they were eventually ‘martyred’.

Islamic state (ISIS) claimed the operation and of the four dead terrorists said “the four knights were elevated to heaven, after the apostates and the crusaders tasted death.” Weapons, explosives, suicide vests were found in the castle and at a safehouse, suggesting that more attacks had been planned.

For me what is of most interest is the terrorists’ decision to hole up at the Karak Castle. The castle is an example of a Crusader fort and dates back to 1142. Christian forces built many such structures after the First Crusade to provide defence for the territory won from Muslim hands. Karak itself was unsuccessfully placed under siege by the legendary Muslim leader Saladin in 1183.

For ISIS and many Islamist terrorist groups the Crusades never ended.

They see any action by Western military forces in countries where Islam is dominant as a continuation of offensive warfare that dates back to the end of the 11th century. In fact, they often use the word ‘Crusader’ in their propaganda.

Jordan has been the site of several Islamist terrorist attacks, despite the efforts of that country’s police and security intelligence services. As an ally of the West – King Abdallah is also a friend of the US – Jordan is seen as an enemy of Islam. Hence the permissibility of targeting its citizens.

The Karak Castle siege was not only important for its Crusader links. As an important tourist site any attack that can get foreigners to see Jordan as an unsafe destination will hurt its economy. Tourism is that nation’s second highest producer of foreign exchange and contributes more than US$800 million to Jordan’s economy, accounting for approximately 10 % of the country’s GDP. If the economy slumps citizens blame the government and some can join, or at least support, terrorist groups which promise something ‘better’.

So terrorists sometimes know what they are doing. Even if they resort to dredging up history most of us have long forgotten.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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