From Jordan To Iraq: The Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad

Adam Fitzgerald
5 min readDec 6, 2019

Afghanistan was still smoldering from the effects of the Soviet-Afghan War…the retreat of Soviet troops from Kabul, was simply the beginning of the end of Nationalist Afghanistan. The country would suddenly see it’s worst in two civil wars that will claim the lives of over 150,000 lives between 1979–1999. By the autumn months of 1989 however two feet would reach the dirt roads of the Khost Province, they would belong to 22 year old Jordanian Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh. Otherwise known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which he would later become infamously known in Iraq. Zarqawi was born to a relatively poor family from the Zarqa Governate, in which the capitol, Zarqa, is where he would be born and raised. Nominally a Sunni Bedouin family, the young Zarqawi was not very religious, not to any extent. His youth saw him travel as a petty criminal and a “pimp” of sorts, regaling the Arab males of Zarqa with young females willing to “entertain” at a price.

Growing weary of the “inaction” with the Soviet invaders gone, al-Zarqawi began writing for Al-Bonian al-Marsous, an Islamist newspaper based in Pakistan. here he would meet the most important man in his life, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who was an established Sunni Salfist radical. He would openly declare the Saudi state as “infidel” in one of his books, Al-Kawashif al-Jaliyya fi Kufr al-Dawla al-Sa’udiyya. Born in West Bank, Jordan, he found common similarities with the energetic al-Zarqawi. While also being one of the primary Salfist scholars to condemn the Saudi’s as kafir, he returned back to Jordan in 1992 and began railing against the Jordanian government, exclaiming they were influenced by the “West”.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would also return to Jordan and began a small unorganized cell, “Jund al-Sham” (The Syrian Division”. By September 1992, al-Zarqawi was arrested by Jordanian authorities, in his home they would find multiple guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, as well as grenades and other small explosives. The plan was to smuggle the explosives to the West Bank. His return to prison was met with other Muslim extremists.

Youssef Rababa’a, himself a Jordanian prisoner who spent 3 years in the same confines as al-Zarqawi, saw Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, become a violent, murderous drunk to a voracious reader of the Quran, in which he started recruiting other criminals into a ring a Salafi militant cell.

“They were all bearded, they all wore the same Afghan clothes and shared the same thinking “He stayed in the background, but the members of the group would do nothing without his approval”, exclaimed Rababa’a.

The man who helped influence al-Zarqawi? Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi who was serving prison for becoming an extremist enemy to the Jordanian government. By 1995, both men were becoming a force as their militant cell inside the prison were the dominant force brewing and gaining new recruits. Al-Zarqawi was himself more physically imposing and outwardly violent, but al-Maqdisi was the more “revered” of the two….according to al-Maqdisi’s lawyer, Mohammed Dweik, “Maqdisi is the most dangerous man in the Middle East.

Everyone who meets him returns home with religion in their heart.” The near illiterate, al-Zarqawi, was made to memorize the Quran under the direction of al-Maqdisi. By 1998, al-Zarqawi began issuing “fatwa’s” to those outside the prison walls. al-Zarqawi tried to recruit, Rababa’a, who was convicted for trying to kill Israeli students in Jordan. However he found the views of al-Zarqawi too extreme.

“He’s not Osama bin Laden,” he said. “Osama has a world view, a political way of thinking. Osama’s enemy is America. Al-Zarqawi didn’t talk about America. He only cared about other Muslims.”

When al-Maqdisi was released in 1999, he stayed in Amman, Jordan. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was next to be released, but he had more expansive goals in mind. He immediately tried to resurrect the Jund al-Sham. However he became interactive with numerous Sunni agents while in Jordan, which a proposal to bomb the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman, the plot was foiled by authorities and al-Zarqawi fled to Pakistan. The plot was later found out to be a much larger plot, which was infamously called “Millennium Plot” an international terrorist plot that involved bombings in Jordan, the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in Kathmandu, India and the bombing of LAX International in Los Angeles, California. From Pakistan, al-Zarqawi relocated to Afghanistan to the Herat Province where he would meet Osama Bin Laden. It was here Bin Laden found the vicious Jordanian “too volatile” and then gave al-Zarqawi his blessing to open and train a camp in Iraq. The fall of the Hussein regime as just beginning, and it was here al-Zarqawi began an organization which had very few adherents, some from the same Jordanian prison which they shared with al-Zarqawi. Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ) in English (The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad).

The group itself was primarily made of Salafi foreigners, and also Iraqi Baathists who were formerly guards and security personnel during the Hussein regime. They would specialize in brutal torture methods learned under the Baathist secular government and of course its former security services, The General Directorate of Intelligence, which dissolved in 2003 under the Iraqi Provisional Orders from L.Paul Bremer, whom Bush appointed as director of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The group’s former and only goal was simple, the complete overthrow of the secular Jordanian government. However with the impending fall of the Iraq government, the organization began to form more “ultra-orthodox” goals which would start with a bombing campaign from al-Zarqawi against American troops. Unprecedented car bombings never seen before were under the orders from the venerable Jordanian.

The JTJ had set up sleeper cells to combat the U.S led coalition troops located in the Iraqi capitol, Baghdad. There hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) would be hidden in paper bags on the side of roads which saw U.S and British military vehicles pass thru and suddenly become compromised by the explosives devices. Many casualties and injuries were caused by these IED’s and suddenly the war became “unconventional”, the U.S authorities suddenly began noticing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as another form of horror would befall the world watching it as it unfolded to the internet world, the public beheadings of captured coalition contractors. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, would mention to the United Nations of the ruthless nature of the Jordanian, but hardly anyone took notice of who he was…..but by 2003…the world would slowly begin to know not just who he is, but the extreme measures of killing U.S and coalition civilians, and also the Shiite minorities as well were also noticed by other extremist groups such as Al Qaeda. The JTJ organization had become not some unorganized sect, but a truly unexpected, but feared terrorist group which took the nature of terrorism to new extremes.

By 2011, they would become globally known as the Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL).



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.