AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – The U.S. Peace Corps said it is temporarily suspending its program in Jordan because of the “regional environment,” highlighting growing security concerns among some foreigners after Jordan raised its profile in the battle against Islamic State militants.
The Peace Corps announcement came after the U.S. Embassy in Jordan warned last month of a potential threat of attacks against “high-end malls” in the capital Amman.
Jordan has long been perceived as an island of relative stability in a turbulent region, a country that offers shelter to war refugees from neighboring countries. Harm to that image could pose a growing threat to important branches of Jordan’s economy, including tourism and related businesses.
Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani declined to comment Sunday on the decision by the Peace Corps, which was posted on the agency’s website over the weekend.
Mustafa Hamarneh, a member of Jordan’s parliament, said there is a sense among Jordanians that U.S. officials are exaggerating the possible risk of attacks on foreigners in Jordan. “Malls are full, markets are full,” he said. “There is no general sense in this country that we are in danger.”
Maintaining Jordan’s image as a stable country is critical for the economy, he said.
Jordan joined a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in September, but significantly raised its profile last month, after the extremists released a video showing the immolation of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot trapped in a cage. The killing of the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, set off widespread anger among Jordanians and warnings by the authorities that they would retaliate by carrying out more airstrikes against Islamic State targets.
The extremist group controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, which border Jordan.
The Peace Corps said 37 volunteers had been working with local communities on youth development, and that all volunteers have left Jordan. Citing the “current regional environment” for the pullout, the agency said it hopes the volunteers can return later.
The Peace Corps’ website says the agency operates in 64 countries and currently has more than 6,800 volunteers and trainees.