The widow and children of Salafist Mahmud Abdelal, who blew himself up in Syria last month, were all ears as his proud but grieving mother described his commitment to jihad.
His story is particularly timely, given that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Syrian opposition on Wednesday to resist efforts by Islamist “extremists” to hijack the revolution to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Four boys and a girl, the oldest only 10, gathered around their mother, Khadijah Tahawi in a humble house in one of the most underprivileged parts of Baqaa, Jordan’s largest Palestinian refugee camp north of Amman.
Hind Hassan, 50, pulled herself together as she spoke of Mahmud, one of scores of Jordanian Salafists said to have gone to neighbouring Syria to fight, with at least 13 reportedly killed.
“My son was very very religious. He started reciting the Koran when he was 10. He never stopped dreaming of jihad,” Hind told AFP as of one of the children cried.
After graduating from a vocational training centre in Amman, he became a successful mechanic.
“I prevented him so many times from going to the West Bank to fight Israel,” Hindi said of her son, 33, who is a Jordanian of Palestinian origin.
And so did the authorities. He was arrested in 2004 and held for a month after he tried to go to the West Bank to fight.
In 2005, he was jailed for two years for plotting to fight US troops in Iraq.
Then, in 2009, he was convicted in absentia of plotting to attack and kidnap intelligence officers in Jordan and sentenced to 25 years in jail.
“He remained on the run after that and visited us secretly. The last time I saw him was in September.
“He told me: ‘God is on my side but please pray for me.’ He kissed his wife and children and left,” said Hind as she burst into tears.
Four days later Mahmud called his mother from Syria.
“He sounded happy over the telephone, but he said: ‘If I do not call again, do not worry and keep praying for me.'”
“I missed him and I kept waiting for him to call but he never did. I knew that he was martyred.”
On October 12, Mahmud’s father Mohammed told Hind someone had called from Syria and that their son had died in a suicide attack on a post of army snipers in Daraa, the cradle of the uprising.
“I was told he blew himself up wearing an explosive belt. I wished to see some of his remains at least. I am happy that God gave him what he wanted and relieved him from injustice in this life,” said the woman.
“But at the same time, it broke my heart. I feel sad because I am a mother and he is my son.”
Mahmud’s widow Khadijah, only 26 years old, said as she wept: “I knew that he would do it. We were so happy together. I miss him a lot.”
Salafists, who espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam, call funerals for their number killed in fighting a “martyr’s wedding”, and exchange congratulations instead of condolences.
“More than 1,000 people attended my son’s martyr’s wedding,” Hind said. “I hope he is happy now that God made his dream come true.”
“I think Mahmud was preparing all of us for his martyrdom. We argued about jihad and suicide operations. I begged him to avoid them,” Khadijah told AFP, holding her youngest child.
“But he never needed anybody’s permission. He always said: ‘It is like a little sting, you do not feel it as long as you have faith in God.’
Mahmud’s father-in-law is Abed Shehadeh, known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, one of the top Salafist leaders in Jordan.
Tahawi said more than 250 Jordanian jihadists are now in Syria to fight and that 13 others have been killed there.
One of Mahmud’s friends, who asked not to be named, described him as “tall, athletic and well-built. He boxed and did bodybuilding. But at the same time he was very friendly.”
“After he joined the Salafist movement, he isolated himself and became less sociable. But he was tolerant to others, including non-Salafists.”
Tahawi said he was proud to be fighting the Syrian regime.
“Mahmud was martyred fighting the brutal regime in Syria that has spread fear and death among Sunni Muslims. Fighting this regime makes us rejoice and makes us proud,” he told AFP.
“Jihad against the regime of Assad is the duty of every Muslim, because he killed people and violated their honour and destroyed their homes. He is waging a war against the people of Syria.”
On Wednesday, Clinton raised the alarm about jihadists in Syria.
“There are disturbing reports of extremists going into Syria attempting to take over what has been a legitimate revolution against an oppressive regime for their own purposes,” Clinton said during a visit to Croatia.
The opposition should “strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution”.
Jordan, which says it is hosting more than 200,000 Syrian refugees, arrested more than a dozen jihadists in April and June as they tried to infiltrate Syria.
And last month, although Amman has beefed up its security along the border, a Jordanian soldier was killed in clashes with jihadists trying to cross over.
“Mark my word, all the Salafists in the world will stand by the Syrian people. We will hit the Syrian regime so hard and we do not care if the world considers this as a crime,” Tahawi said.