Amman, Jordan – Jordanian authorities have released Salafi leader Assem Barqawi, better known as Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, after having served a five-year prison sentence on allegations of jeopardising state security and recruiting jihadists to fight in Afghanistan.
His release came as a surprise to some after the escalating war in Syria has presented big security challenges to neighbouring Jordan, especially amid an increasing number of Jordanians joining jihadist groups inside the war-torn country.
“We did not expect his release. We thought he would be interrogated and held further,” Mohammad Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, head of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafist Movement told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.
Maqdesi is a supporter of al-Nusra front which, unlike ISIL, does not have any ambitions to take over the region.
Experts and Salafists, however, say that releasing Maqdesi, who has been very critical of violence committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), serves Jordan’s interest as the movement has achieved gains in neighbouring Iraq recently and added to Jordan’s security woes.
“Maqdesi is a supporter of al-Nusra front, one of the fighting groups in Syria, which unlike ISIL, does not have any ambitions to take over the region,” said Hasan Abu Hanya, an expert on jihadist movements.
“He is the mentor and father of our curriculum,” Abu Sayyaf told Al Jazeera.
“There is a pressing need for a mentor like him at this time of bloodshed. He is very concerned about the blood of Muslims being shed and their souls and honour,” Abu Sayyaf added.
In a recent statement published to his website, Tawheed, the leader condemned ISIL and called it “deviant” and called on jihadists to follow “the right [path] and stop the bloodshed”.
According to Abu Hanyah, there are more than 2,000 supporters of ISIL in Jordan – an alarming number for the Jordanian authorities.
“If some 4,000 ISIL members turned Mosul upside down, it is very dangerous for Jordan to have such numbers of supporters, given how violent and experienced the movement is,” he said.
Jordanian officials’ concern has been exacerbated after Iraq reportedly pulled out its forces from the Jordanian border on Sunday.
During a meeting with parliamentarians dedicated to discussing the challenges following the situation in Iraq, Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali said that Jordan had built-up its military presence near the Iraq border by sending gendarmerie forces and additional security forces.
Maqdesi arrived at his house in Rusaifa town in northern Jordan, which is home to the Salfist movement, yesterday. He refused to give media interviews, but will soon issue a statement, according to Abu Sayyaf.
His lawyer, Majid Liftawi, believes his client is not guilty of any terror charges.
“It was all because of his political beliefs and writings,” he said.