IRBID, JORDAN // The family of a Jordanian militant yesterday confirmed his death in a lawless Pakistani tribal region considered a base for Taliban and al Qa'eda fighters amid growing concerns about extremism in Jordan.
Um Abdullah said she received a phone call on Sunday telling her Mahmoud Zeidan, her husband, had been killed after an unmanned US drone attack in North Waziristan. "He told me that my husband died a martyr," Um Abdullah, 34, said. "'God reward you for your efforts', he told me. My feelings are like just any other wife. They are mixed with joy and sadness," she said. Radical jihadi websites announced Zeidan's "martyrdom" on Sunday. One of his sermons, possibly delivered in September last year, appeared on Assahab, a special media production division for al Qa'eda, showing him giving advice for jihadis under the name Sheikh Mansur al Shami.
Zeidan's death comes at a time when Jordan is dealing with the aftermath of a Jordanian suicide bomber who blew himself up at a US military base in Afghanistan last week killing seven CIA agents and a Jordanian liaison officer. The incident revealed the extent of Jordan's co-operation with the US in Afghanistan, which was not well received by many Jordanians. It also raised questions about the numbers of Jordanians fighting alongside the Taliban and al Qa'eda inside Pakistan, wrote Muhammad Abu Rumman, an analyst specialising in Islamist movements, in the Al Ghad newspaper, yesterday.
At a hall in Barha Palestinian refugee camp in Irbid, 85km north of Amman, where Zeidan's family lives, his father, Mahdi, was receiving condolences from mourners. "We were expecting that he would be a martyr. I am glad that he is going to heaven," he said. "I am proud of him. He fought for God and he is not a terrorist. The terrorists are the ones who are attacking the Arab and Islamic countries."
The news of his death, however, did not come as a surprise to the family. The 35-year-old had repeatedly expressed his sympathy for radical Islam, his father said. The last time the family heard from Zeidan was 11 days ago, when he called one of his wife's brothers, to check on them. Each time he called, his father said, he always asked for martyrdom. Yesterday, outside the funeral hall, a banner fluttered to welcome what it called the "wedding of the martyr".
In February 1999, Zeidan left with his wife and eldest daughter Sondous, now 12, to Peshawar in Pakistan, ostensibly to pursue his studies. That was one year after his marriage. His two other daughters, Rokayya, nine, and Hadeel, seven, were born in Afghanistan. In 2004, when the US intensified its fight in Afghanistan, Um Abdullah returned home pregnant with Abdullah, now five years old. Zeidan's family does not know exactly how he joined the ranks of al Qa'eda, but said that in Afghanistan he taught the Quran and Arabic.
"He went to Peshawar because he wanted to further his studies," his father said, "and there it seems he joined the Taliban and received training. He used to go to Karachi and then he joined al Qa'eda". In 1996, Zeidan graduated with a degree in Sharia from the state-run university of Yarmouk, in Irbid. Afterwards, he spent his time teaching the Quran at a Quranic recitation centre in the neighbourhood where he lived.
"He was a very quiet, and a very religiously committed person," his wife said. His younger brother, Abdul Rahman, 32, added: "He always read the Quran. Since puberty, he would fast every other day. He also learnt the Quran by heart and he taught others how to recite it. "He also raised his children well. His eldest daughter has already recited 22 parts of the Quran." The Zeidans are originally a Palestinian family who lived in a town near Gaza before the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 forced them to move to Ramallah until 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank.
But it seems that Mahmoud Zeidan is not the only member of his family drawn to radical Islam. He had six brothers and three sisters. Ibrahim, one of his younger brothers, was held in Guantanamo for five years and four months until he was released two years ago. He was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002. Omar, who the AFP news agency also quoted as receiving a phone call from Pakistan confirming his brother's death, is believed to be one of the mentors of the jihadi Salafi movement in Jordan. Omar said his brother was the bodyguard of al Qa'eda's field leader Mustapha Abulyazid.
Their father is also an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "In Pakistan he was teaching the Quran and he wanted to drive the Americans out of a Muslim land," said Mohammed, his 25-year-old younger brother said. "He was elevated to become a martyr - he was providing education and guidance to the youth." "Al Qa'eda and the Taliban are accepted here as fighters who want to drive the enemy out," Mohammed said. "The government here is fighting on the wrong side by helping the Americans". Mohammed has a master's in Sharia law and wants either to obtain a PhD in the same field or in journalism.
Jordan is trying to fight extremism through advocating moderate Islam in conferences at home and abroad. Most of the radicals in Jordan have been inspired by al Qa'eda in Iraq as well as hundreds of Jordanian mujahideen, who fought with the Afghans against the Soviets in the 1980s. But with growing anger at US policies in Afghanistan and the region, there has been a greater swing towards extremism.
Marwan Shehadeh, an expert on political Islam, said: "The mid-level leaders in al Qa'eda are not marginalised in society. They are educated people and they joined because they are convinced that jihad is the only way to free the Muslim lands from their enemy. "Because of Jordan's proximity with Palestine, it seems the conflict has affected the jihadis here, who consider themselves resistance fighters. For them, Afghanistan is a land that is occupied by America."
Pakistani officials said last week that 13 militants, including four foreigners, were killed in two US drone strikes in Waziristan, AFP reported. It is not known which one killed Zeidan. firstname.lastname@example.org