Explainer: The terrorist group behind the drone attack in Jordan

February 2, 2024

On Sunday, Jan. 28, another Iran-backed militant group known as Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched a drone attack on a small outpost in the country of Jordan, killing three U.S. Army soldiers and injuring more than 30 service members. “We shall respond,” President Joe Biden said on Sunday. Over the past four months, Iran-backed militant groups have increasingly attacked both civilians and military forces throughout the Middle East. The increase in violence began when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people in what has been referred to as Israel’s 9/11.

Since November, another group, known as Houthis, have launched what the State Department describes as “unprecedented attacks” against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, as well as military forces positioned in the Arabian Peninsula to defend the safety and security of commercial shipping. These attacks against international shipping, says the State Department, have “endangered mariners, disrupted the free flow of commerce, and interfered with navigational rights and freedoms.”

Here is what you should know about the Iran-backed terrorist organizations responsible for numerous recent attacks in the Middle East.

How is Iran involved in the recent attacks?

Although Iran denies being involved in the attack on the U.S. outpost, the Shia-dominant nation has been accused of providing weapons and funding for several militant groups in the Middle East including the Houthis, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Earlier this year, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said that “Iran proudly announces that it supports Palestinian resistance movements for the liberation of their land.”

These militant groups are used by Iran to fight a proxy war against Iran’s enemies—namely Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S. (In proxy wars, states arm and support actors in another country to achieve their broader geopolitical goals.) Iran-linked groups using drones packed with explosives have attacked U.S. troops in the Middle East more than 150 times since Hamas’s recent assault on Israel.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis—formally known as Ansar Allah or Ansarallah (Supporters of God)—originated in the early 1990s in northern Yemen. They began as a theological movement and took their name from their original leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who served in the Yemeni parliament and advocated for the rights of the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority in Yemen. 

Zaydi Shiites are a minority within the Islamic world, with distinct beliefs from other Shiite groups (The two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia, which differ in their views on political succession and the authority of Muhammad’s descendants. Roughly 90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni and 10% are Shia.) 

The Houthis follow a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, but the Houthi movement represents a complex blend of religious, political, and tribal elements.They seek greater autonomy for their region and oppose what they perceive as Western influence and Sunni dominance, promoted by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The Houthi emblem, which offers a general idea of the group’s views, is composed entirely of the following phrases: “God is great, Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews, victory to Islam.” 

The Houthis have said the reason they were targeting ships that are Israeli owned, flagged, or operated, or that are heading to Israeli ports. However, many of the vessels that have been attacked have no connection with Israel

The Houthis originate from and operate out of Yemen, a country located in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the northeast. The capital of Yemen is Sanaa, one of the oldest cities in the world.

The Houthi rebels’ control significant territories within this Arabian nation, including Sanaa, and large portions of northern and western Yemen. They remain a major force in the decade-long Yemeni civil war. The conflict has led to a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced and more in need of aid. 

What is the Islamic Resistance in Iraq?

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is a loose coalition of Iranian-backed militias that oppose U.S. presence in Iraq and Syria. One group with that coalition, Kata’ib Hizballah, has claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S. military bases, including the recent deadly attack on a U.S. military base in Jordan. The group’s membership is deliberately vague, allowing each armed group a level of plausible deniability. There is evidence suggesting that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards play a coordinating role in the coalition. The group’s actions are part of efforts to drive U.S. troops out of the region, galvanized by the Israel-Hamas war. The U.S. has pledged to hold the responsible parties accountable, and there are concerns about the risk of military escalation in the region due to these attacks.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is part of the so-called “axis of resistance,” which also includes other Iran-linked groups in the region. These groups have carried out multiple attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria—and now Jordan—with the aim to push the U.S. to ramp up its Middle East defenses. The attacks have raised fears of regional escalation and have led to increased tensions between the involved parties.

What is Hamas?

Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), is a Palestinian Islamist political and military organization. It was established in 1987 and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent Islamic state in the land of Israel.

Hamas is widely popular in Palestinian society due to its anti-Israeli stance and its promotion of Palestinian nationalism in an Islamic context. Since its founding, Hamas has been involved in ongoing attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, indiscriminate rocket attacks, and other war crimes.

Hamas has a military wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. These militants are currently engaged in war with Israel and concentrated in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank.

What is Hizballah?

Hizballah, also known as Hezbollah,  is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political and military organization that has state-like military capabilities including various missiles, rockets, and unmanned aircraft systems. The group is proficient in asymmetric and conventional tactics and has been involved in various attacks and operations throughout the Middle East. 

Hizballah was established in the early 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. It arose with the financial and ideological support of Iran and aimed to establish an Islamic state in Lebanon based on Shia Islamic principles. The group’s ideology is heavily influenced by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran.

What actions has the Biden administration taken toward these groups?

The Biden administration has redesignated the Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization. Kata’ib Hizballah has been on the list since 2009. Hamas and Hizballah since 1997.

The U.S. government maintains several lists related to terrorism, each serving distinct purposes and governed by different legal frameworks. These lists are tools for implementing and enforcing national security and foreign policy strategies. The most prominent of these are the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). 

The FTO is a list managed by the State Department that designates foreign organizations as terrorist groups. Designation as an FTO makes it illegal for persons in the U.S. or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly provide “material support or resources” to the designated organization. It also allows for the freezing of the group’s assets in U.S. financial institutions and denies entry into the U.S. to representatives and members of these organizations.

In contrast, the SDGT is managed by the Treasury Department, specifically under the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This list, which targets individuals and groups worldwide, focuses on cutting off financial support to terrorists. It includes a broader range of entities compared to the FTO list including individuals, groups, and companies involved in terrorist activities. Those designated are subjected to asset freezes and travel bans.

The Treasury Department recently sanctioned entities and individuals associated with Kata’ib Hizballah, highlighting the ongoing efforts to target the group’s financial network and its supporters.

President Biden removed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthi rebels as terrorists, arguing it hampered humanitarian assistance to people in Yemen. A U.S. official told Axios that the administration believes the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” designation is the “appropriate tool at this moment.”

For the past few weeks, the U.S. and other Western countries have also been carrying out military strikes against Houthi sites in Yemen in retaliation for the attacks on shipping. 

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24