A gunman shot dead the controversial anti-Islamist writer, Nahed Hattar, outside a courthouse in central Amman’s Abdali District on 25 September. Hattar was due to stand trial for contempt of religion over a cartoon he posted online mocking Islamic State (IS). The assailant, who is a resident of eastern Amman, has been arrested and charged with terrorism offences. The authorities have also detained ten social media users for allegedly spreading hatred.
The Government has not said whether the perpetrator had pledged allegiance to a particular group, though he may have been seeking to act in support of IS given that it was the target of Hattar’s cartoon. The shooting reflects a growing frequency of isolated and low-level attacks by both militants and jihadist sympathisers in Jordan. For example, five intelligence personnel were killed in June at Baqaa refugee camp. In this instance, the fact that the assailant was able to strike Hattar outside a courthouse in central Amman demonstrates his willingness to be killed or captured by the security forces.
Hattar, who was Christian, was especially high-profile given his outspoken criticism of IS and support for Syrian President Assad, and so the shooting may be an isolated incident. While attacks in the capital remain rare the authorities’ failure to secure the area, which is located near several other Government buildings, will be highly embarrassing to the regime. Meanwhile, the IAF has condemned the attack and this will limit any Islamist support for such assassinations. That said, Hattar’s killing will be popular among Jordan’s Salafist-jihadist community, and so there is a risk of copycat strikes in the coming months against those perceived to be critical of Islam.