A Jordanian air force captain has allegedly deserted and joined Syria’s jihadist al-Nusra Front to fight against the Syrian government forces, a member of his family and a Salafi leader said on Monday.
“Ahmad Atallah Shbeib al-Majali, born in 1984, took a leave from his job last Wednesday and traveled to Turkey on Friday and from there he went to Syria to join the rebels,” the family member told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The relative added that Majali was promoted just two weeks ago.
The Jordan Armed Forces refused to comment, while there was no immediate reaction available from the government.
A Salafi leader confirmed Majali’s defection and that he has joined the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
“The captain from the southern city of Karak has been in touch with members of Nusra and has decided to join them. There are eight people fighting with Nusra from his area,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Al-Nusra Front is among the most prominent groups fighting against Assad’s forces in the Syrian conflict
Another source told AFP that Majali was not a pilot.
“He has deserted and could face the death penalty if convicted of desertion,” the source added without elaborating.
Jordanian Salafis have said there were more than 500 jihadists from the country in Syria.
Amman denies accusations from the Syrian regime that the kingdom has opened up its borders to jihadist fighters.
Meanwhile on Monday an international rights group called on Syria’s neighbors to reopen their borders to refugees trying to escape the bloody conflict.
Human Rights Watch said Iraq, Jordan and Turkey had all restricted the flow of people trying to flee a conflict which has killed 100,000 people and, according to the United Nations, has already driven 1.7 million more to take sanctuary outside Syria.
Only Lebanon, which has limited control over its own borders and is now hosting over half a million refugees, had remained open to refugees, the New York-based rights group said.
“Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey risk turning Syria into an open-air prison for tens of thousands of Syrians unable to escape the carnage in their country,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Syria’s neighbours should stop pushing desperate people back to places where their lives are in danger,” Simpson said, adding that international donors should help those countries shoulder the burden of hosting the continuing wave of refugees.
In May, aid workers and refugees in Jordan told Reuters that thousands of Syrians were stranded on the border when Jordanian authorities turned them back.
HRW said the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad had severely limited the numbers of Syrians allowed to enter since August 2012, and that new arrivals virtually ceased in late March.
Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government close its border with Syria in May, and since mid-June only some Syrians in need of emergency humanitarian assistance have been allowed to cross, it said.
Turkey is blocking thousands of Syrians at the Bab al-Salam, Atma and other crossings, HRW said, and only sporadically allowing small numbers from camps inside Syria to cross.