Maarek Abu Tayeh, a 39-year-old First Sergeant, was sentenced to life for killing three US soldiers as they entered the King Faisal airbase in Al Jafer in November last year
Jordan releases video of shooting of US soldiers
Jordan’s military released for the first time footage showing the fatal killing of US soldiers who were chased and shot dead by a Jordanian soldier, after the perpetrator’s tribe disputed the army's version of the attack.
Last week, the state security court handed a life sentence to Maarek Abu Tayeh, a 39-year-old First Sergeant, for killing three US soldiers as they entered the King Faisal airbase in Al Jafer in November last year.
The three Green Berets — Staff Sgt James Moriarty, 27, Staff Sgt Kevin McEnroe, 30, and Staff Sgt Matthew Lewellen, 27 - were from the 5th Special Forces group, based at Fort Campbell in the US state of Kentucky.
American special forces had been training vetted southern Syrian rebel groups at the base as part of a covert CIA programme, which was ended recently by the Trump administration.
After the court ruling, the Hweitat tribe — to which Abu Tayeh belongs — blocked roads leading to Al Jafer and burnt tyres in protest last week, leading to several arrests.
Members of the tribe travelled in a convoy to the US embassy in Amman in their white pickup trucks, but were prevented from holding a demonstration there.
The tribe also held a conference on Friday last week in Al Jafer, southern Jordan, to protest the ruling and demanded Abu Tayeh’s release on grounds he was innocent and acted within the rules of engagement.
An official army source, quoted by Petra News Agency on Monday, said the Jordanian soldier had violated military rules. The source said he was not acting out of self-defence and was not under threat when he opened fire on the soldiers who were following entry procedures.
Abu Tayeh had prior knowledge about the soldiers' departure and arrival to and from the airbase, the source said.
"The court issued its ruling against Abu Tayeh in accordance with Jordanian law and the charges against him, after confronting him with evidence, video that proved he was guilty and his own confession of murdering the US soldiers," the source was quoted by Petra as saying.
The six-minute video — posted on Hala Akhbar, a website affiliated with the army — showed a US convoy coming under fire at the entrance of the airbase. It also showed two US soldiers who left their vehicles for cover raising their hands to show they were friendly forces.
The video, which had no sound, also showed the Jordanian soldier, armed with his M16 rifle, chasing and shooting them. He was later injured by the crossfire.
The release of the video was seen as an attempt to placate Abu Tayeh's tribe and some Jordanians who were sceptical of the authorities' version of the story, particularly after the government first issued a statement saying the US soldiers had failed to heed orders by Jordanian troops to stop at the gate of the airbase, triggering the shoot-out.
The initial statement, which sought to blame the three special forces, angered the US embassy which said investigators were considering all potential motives for the attack and had not ruled out terrorism.
Jordan then retracted the statement and issued another saying there was an exchange of fire at the military base.
The Hweitat tribe and others believe the court’s ruling was politically driven.
According to a June survey published by the Pew Research Centre, 82 per cent of Jordanians hold unfavourable views of the United States.
"The government was under pressure to release the video, especially after the reaction from his tribe who perceived Abu Tayeh as a victim and believed he was innocent," said
Amer Sabaileh, a political analyst and director of Middle East Media and Political Studies Institute, a think tank with an office in Amman and headquarters in Washington.
"The protests that started with anger against the court’s verdict could expand and trigger wider protests against marginalisation, poverty, lack of services and unemployment in Jordan’s south," he said.
The incident is embarrassing for Jordan, a key US ally, especially after a Jordanian captain shot dead five people, including two American contractors, in a separate shooting spree at a police training centre near Amman in November 2015.
Jim, the father of James Moriarty, said in a post on his Facebook page "watching this video is one of the hardest things I have ever done".
"My son, Kevin, and Matt deserved better than to be murdered by a so-called ally. If Jordan is our best friend in the Middle East, we do not need enemies.’’