A series of armed bank robberies in Amman has rattled Jordan, with some activists blaming the country’s rising crime rate on alleged government corruption and failed economic policies.
Activists say increased taxes and food and fuel prices have eroded the savings and salaries of the country’s poor, which has pushed some to resort to serious crime.
Armed bank robberies are rare in Jordan, but Amman has recently seen six heists in branches of the Societe Generale Bank Jordan, Arab Bank – Jordan and Comercial Bank.
A branche of Societe Generale bank was robbed in January and two Arab Bank branches were hit in early April, with robbers taking tens of thousands of Jordanian dinars (one dinar is equivalent to $1.4 approximately) each time, according to police statements.
Video footage of a robbery at one of the Societe Generale branches showed a lone, barefaced gunman walking calmly to the counter, demanding money be put in a bag and then fleeing the scene on foot.
In a different bank, a gunman wearing a mask brandished a gun at the teller and demanded money.
The robbers were caught within hours or days, either by the police or by bystanders, pointing to the amateurish nature of the criminals.
Following the robbery at one of the Arab Bank branches in Amman, a 59-year-old man surrendered to police the same day after he paid off personal debt with money he stole from the bank.
Another man was reportedly caught at the airport while trying to board a plane to Turkey with the stolen money stuffed in his suitcase.
‘Failed economic policies’
Many Jordanians have since expressed seeming delight in the robberies on social media, in a reflection of anti-government sentiment.
Social media posts blamed the government for poverty and corruption for pushing otherwise ordinary people to resort to crime in order to deal with their financial crises.
Al Jazeera reached out to the Jordanian government for comment but has yet to receive a response.
Brigadier General Fayez Qablan, former head of Jordan’s Police Criminal Investigation Division, told Al Jazeera that the recent bank robberies are unusual, reflecting a serious trend that must be dealt with both on legal and social levels.
“Throughout my long career in the police, I have never dealt with armed bank robberies such as the ones that took place in recent months,” Qablan said.
“Bank robberies just never happened in Jordan,” he added, attributing the rise in serious crime to leadership problems and unprofessionalism among some of those in charge of crime prevention.
He also pointed to people’s mistrust of the government, which led many to take to social media to sympathise with criminals and attack the authorities and security agencies.
“Society in Jordan has changed and with it the nature of crime,” Qablan said.
“Government weakness and lack of transparency and rule of law have direct relation to the sharp increase of criminal activities, such as murder, bank robberies and drug trafficking,” he said.
Activists say government policies were the main catalyst contributing to the increase in violent crime, something that was rare until recently.
They point to the recent proliferation of violent street gangs, car thefts and drug trafficking rings that have dominated some sections of Amman with impunity.
Police, however, have made notable progress in decreasing the crime levels in these areas, according to recent crime reports.
Still, Tareq al-Fayed, a journalist who covers local news for Al Quds al-Arabi newspaper, told Al Jazeera that in the past he would cover perhaps one serious crime, involving drugs or robbery, for example, every few weeks, but now he receives “police reports almost every day about major drug trafficking cases, gang activities, theft and robberies”.
‘Crime of desperation’
Prominent anti-corruption activist Hussam Abdallat said robberies and criminal activities have been on the rise since the government lifted its bread subsidies in February, resulting in bread prices doubling and an increase in the price of basic food staples.
Abdallat called the armed bank robberies “crimes of desperation”.
“The reason many people sympathise with bank robbers has to do with anti-government sentiments. Many of them blame the government for forcing people to resort to crime in order to deal with rising poverty,” he said.
Activist and journalist Hibah Abu Taha told Al Jazeera that the government’s “failed policies” have practically destroyed the middle class, which has led to hunger and increased poverty.
“While many people in Jordan suffer from poverty, corrupt government officials are getting richer and go unpunished for their economic crimes,” she said.
“The entire Jordanian political and economic system is corrupt,” she added.
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