MAAN, Jordan (AP) — A Jordanian militant leader linked to al-Qaida said Friday that the kingdom "is not immune" to the chaos befalling neighboring countries, urging the government to implement more balanced economic and social policies to avoid a fate similar to Iraq and Syria.
Mohammed al-Shalabi, a senior leader of Jordan's Salafi movement, also told The Associated Press that the recent declaration of a caliphate by a Sunni extremist group in Iraq and Syria may cause a schism among Jihadi groups.
The Islamic State group is led by an Iraqi militant known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who this week declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in lands it has seized in Syria and Iraq.
It proclaimed al-Baghdadi the head of its new self-styled state and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.
Al-Shalabi spoke in an interview at his home on the outskirts of the southern city of Maan, an impoverished area that has seen protests by supporters of the Islamic State group. He said he was not for or against the group but he was worried it would splinter the global jihadi movement.
"The Muslim clerics said the caliphate shouldn't be declared at the moment for many reasons, because this declaration will create division among jihadi groups in the world," he said.
"For example in Chechnya, in the Caucuses, in Afghanistan and Somalia, there are groups that announced that they belong to al-Qaida. These groups will be divided, one hundred percent these groups will be divided between a supporter to the caliphate and a reluctant," al-Shalabi added.
Despite facing protests amid the Arab Spring wave of revolutions in the region, King Abdullah has remained in power by promising to speed up reforms he initiated since he ascended to the throne in 1999. However, the country's weakened opposition says the king has found excuses to hold onto power. Abdullah is a close friend of the U.S. and the country relies on donations from the U.S. and oil-rich Gulf Arabs to keep its fragile economy afloat
Although Jordan's multiparty system was revived in 1991, following a 34-year ban after a 1957 leftist coup attempt, opposition parties have yet to gain real power. They say they are intimidated by tight scrutiny and security crackdowns.
The rapid expansion of the Islamic State group, whose fighters captured the Iraqi side of the border with Jordan last month, also is causing new concern in a country already grappling with fallout from the Syrian civil war.
The army has dispatched reinforcements to its border with Iraq to boost security.
Jordan is home to a growing movement of jihadis and ultraconservative Salafis. Hundreds of Jordanians are known to have traveled to Syria to fight in the uprising against President Bashar Assad. Some have joined extremist groups that have become increasingly powerful over rival factions.
In Maan, supporters of the Islamic State group have held protests, carrying banners that declared the city the "Fallujah of Jordan," a reference to the Iraqi city that has been a militant hotbed.
Jordan has so far been spared the same scenario as Syria and Iraq because the government has managed to contain the opposition, and because most people were worried about their country falling into chaos like their neighbors, al-Shalabi said.
But he said that cannot last forever, urging the government implement Islamic Shariah laws and more balanced economic and social policies.
"Jordan is not immune to what is happening in neighboring countries," he said.