AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Jordanian police have arrested two alleged militants on their way to Syria to fight against President Bashar Assad, security and Islamist officials said Tuesday.
It is the first time that Jordan has publicly stated that its own militants are joining other Arab fighters to support the Syrian opposition.
Last month, Syria said it arrested 26 alleged al-Qaida “foreign terrorists,” including one Jordanian. But Jordan never commented on the allegation.
The Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests calling for change, has turned into an increasingly militarized conflict. Activists put the death toll at over 13,000. One year after the revolt started, the U.N. put the toll at 9,000, but many more have died since.
Al-Qaida-style suicide bombings have become increasingly common, and Western officials say there is little doubt that Islamist extremists, some associated with the terror network, have made inroads in Syria as instability has spread.
The security official said the two Jordanians belong to a small extremist militant organization called the Salafi Movement. Authorities say the group numbers 800 activists, including many who fought alongside the al-Qaida in Iraq group.
“Salafi” is also a broader term used by a large movement of ultraconservative Muslims, militant and otherwise.
The official said the two were arrested Sunday near the Syrian border, but declined to provide other details. He insisted on anonymity, citing the ongoing investigation.
A Salafi Movement member confirmed the arrest in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
He identified them as Omar Bazayaah and Khaled Khateeb, saying both were middle-aged men who hailed from prominent tribal Jordanian families.
He said the two confessed to police that they were on their way to Syria to “take part in the Jihad (holy war) against the Syrian regime and its sinful gang.”
He insisted on anonymity, fearing police retribution.