By Fahed Khitan

The Rukban Cell and the Perils of the Camp

Authorities only recently figured out they had successfully apprehended the very members of the ISIS cell who planned and executed the suicide attack back in June, 2016.

On the 21st of June, last year, the terrorist attack on the Jordanian Army’s advanced border control position, close to the Rukan Syrian Refugee Camp on the northern borderline, resulted in the martyrdom of 7 Border Guards.

Shortly afterwards, a bold intelligence operation let to the successful identification of implicated ISIS terrorists within the camp, and the arrest of all five of them. The same five who stood trial before Jordan’s Courthouse of State Security.

In retrospect, the successful execution of the operation is evidence to the Intelligence Agency’s outstanding capacity, and their accurate estimation of the fact that the camp is indeed incubating terrorist activity and ISIS sleepers.

For two years, international organisations kept pressuring Jordan to open its borders to the tens of thousands of refugees camped in Rukban. And in more than one occasion, international officials had said they were not convinced by Jordan’s justifications and intel, suggesting the presence of terrorists inside the camp.

For years too, intelligence has reaffirmed that ISIS, for one, is exploiting the mass demographic congestion of displaced Syrians to house sleeper cells and bases.

Intel suggested that these cells ISIS has been building have one target; Jordan, and that there were indeed other plans to carry out several attacks.

Due to the presence of strong and compelling evidence, Jordan stuck to its position and declared a full scale lockdown of the military zone bordering Syria.

Refugee access to Jordanian territories then on was strictly prohibited, with the exception of extremely urgent humanitarian cases requiring immediate medical attention. Soon after refugee patients receive treatment at the field hospital, they are sent back.

Meanwhile, in order to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation and allow the provision of foodstuff and medical aid for the displaced residents of the camp, Jordanian command engineered a tight mechanism to help the terror-struck Syrian refugees in Rukban and facilitate periodic medical services in collaboration and coordination with the respective humanitarian agencies.

Now, imagine if Jordan had succumbed to the pressures of the International Community and let them all in?

Hundreds of undercover ISIS militants among their midst would have infiltrated us, including the very lot who stood trial yesterday.

Had that have happened, terrorists would have had a free range of opportunities and a whole lot of time to plan and orchestrate terror attacks all around Jordan; they would have terrorised the whole country!

In retrospect, again, many of us should now see clearly and appreciate the wisdom of Jordan’s decision to prohibit access for Rukban refugees and limiting it to emergency medical attention. That is of course notwithstanding the scale of the Syrians’ suffering and the fact that they have —there too— found themselves surrounded by terrorists.

Nonetheless, mindful of their tragedy, but aware of the threats behind it, especially in light of the attack and the frequency of the intel coming in, we should think again. The latest intelligence report suggests that nearly 10 per cent of the camp’s residents are in fact ISIS militants

That said, perhaps it is time to consider fundamental solutions to the peril lurking there just a few hundred metres away from our border.

Dismantling the camp, for example, is a plausible solution, because sooner than later, the camp will come to house a massive army of terrorists, and it will then be extremely difficult for Jordan to engage them militarily, due to the presence of so many citizens and real refugees.

However, the dismantlement of the Rukban camp is not a task Jordan can carry out on its own. It would require the cooperation of Syrian, regional, and active international parties, engaged in the Syrian situation, to redistribute the displaced population in Rukban over numerous safe zones in Syria. Some of them can be relocated to their hometowns as well; those included in the ceasefire.

Right now though, it may be hard to pull off. But as the battle to liberate Raqqa nears by the day, and the cleansing of Deir el Zour, from where most of the displaced Rukban residents originate, it may be an applicable resolution soon, to dismantle the dangerous and terror infested congestion of refugees so close to our borders.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic version, published by AlGhad.

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