By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) - Recruitment of Jordanians by Jihadist group to fight in Syria and Iraq has fallen to its lowest level during the current conflict, following a tightening of anti-terrorism laws and surveillance, a senior Jordanian official said.
Some 900 Jordanians are fighting in the two neighboring countries for Islamic State and al Qaeda and their offshoots, the official told Reuters on Tuesday.
But they mostly left Jordan, a staunch U.S. ally, in 2013 and 2014, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Numbers joining the ultra-hardline groups have dropped as better intelligence has enabled Jordanian security forces to arrest radicalized youths before they could leave the country, while prison sentences for Jihadist activities were stiffened in 2014, he said.
But authorities have also sought to avoid tough punitive measures that might turn would-be Jihadist sympathizers or first-time offenders into hardline fundamentalists, the official said.
Jordan's borders with both Syria and Iraq have been tightly sealed and the few who have left since 2014 have mainly gone through third countries, security sources say.
"As a neighbor ...the (recruitment) figures should have been much higher under different circumstances," the official said, adding that far fewer fighters had come from Jordan than from some other countries that did not share borders with Iraq and Syria.
Jordan plays a prominent role in the U.S. led coalition against Islamic State, providing military, logistical and intelligence support, Western diplomats and regional intelligence sources say.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, editing by John Stonestreet)