Jordan releases 16 allegedly involved in foreign-backed sedition plot

Jordan's King Abdullah II
Jordan’s King Abdullah II attends the inauguration of the 19th Parliament’s non-ordinary session in Amman in December.
(Yousef Allan / Associated Press)

Weeks after their arrest, more than a dozen alleged plotters were freed over their involvement in a royal feud between King Abdullah II and his half-brother and onetime crown prince, Prince Hamzah.

The rift, which government officials describe as a foreign-backed plot to destabilize the country, has for weeks kept Jordanians in thrall, bringing undue attention to a royal family used to keeping its disputes private and unwelcome international scrutiny over the desert kingdom’s leadership.

The 16 detainees, many of them members of Prince Hamzah’s staff or his circle of friends from Jordan’s powerful tribes, had been captured in a blitz operation involving multiple strike teams dispatched across the kingdom. They were set to be let go after the king had urged the government to “look into the proper mechanism to have those who were were misled into following the sedition” to be returned to their families, according to a statement released by the palace on Thursday.

Jordan’s tribes have long been the kingdom’s bedrock and a source of support for the monarchy. But accusations of seditious scheming may change that.

April 14, 2021


The release had come after families of the accused petitioned the palace for forgiveness.

Later on Thursday, state news operator Petra quoted Brig. Gen. Hazem Majali, the public prosecutor of the military court, as saying the defendants were freed “within legal frameworks and standards” based on the king’s “concern for the good of the country and citizen.”

Family members scrambled to pick up their relatives from the headquarters of Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate on the outskirts of the capital, Amman.

“They were released with no charges. Hopefully they’ll be having iftar in their homes tonight,” said Hisham Majali, from whose tribe two members were arrested. He referred to the traditional breaking of the fast held after sunset during the month of Ramadan.

Two other defendants remained in detention: Bassem Awadallah, a former top lieutenant to King Abdullah with deep links to Saudi Arabia, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a royal family member. Brig. Gen. Majali said they were being held “in connection with the difference in their roles … and the level of incitement that differs from the rest of the accused.”

Despite disclosing no evidence, officials insist Awadallah and Bin Zaid, both of whom hold Saudi citizenship, were involved in a thus-far undefined plan to incite protests in Jordan, protests that Prince Hamzah would use to usurp the place of his half-brother on the throne.

Hamzah, who the king had earlier said would be “dealt with within the framework” of the ruling Hashemite family, has not spoken publicly since he leaked a pair of videos on April 3 in which he pilloried the country’s leadership — without mentioning his half-brother — for corruption, nepotism, misrule as well as the inability to tolerate dissent.

His words have since resonated with many in Jordan, a perennially cash-strapped kingdom and top U.S. ally that has been ravaged by the coronavirus. The country suffers from unprecedented levels of youth unemployment and the widespread perception that corruption has riddled the state.