Al-Zarqawi group warns of more Jordan attacks

Jordan said on Thursday it has arrested several suspects over hotel bombings that killed 56 people in the deadliest attacks in the kingdom’s history, claimed by homegrown extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s militants.

The suicide attacks late on Wednesday on one of the closest United States allies in the Middle East targeted three hotels in the Jordanian capital that are favourite haunts of Amman’s expatriate community and Western travellers.

The strikes shattered the relative calm of one of the region’s most stable states that was previously considered a safe haven from the turmoil of neighbouring Iraq.

“A number of suspects were arrested and a number of cars were seized in connection with the terrorist attacks,” a security source said in a statement carried by the state-run Petra news agency.

The group of al-Zarqawi, who heads al-Qaeda’s Iraq operations, claimed the coordinated attacks in an internet statement, saying “our good lions launched ... a new raid ... in Amman”, and warned of more to come.

The hotels “were turned by the dictator of Jordan as a back garden for the enemies of [our] religion, the Jews and the Crusaders”, the al-Qaeda Organisation in the Land of Two Rivers said, in reference to King Abdullah II.

“The protection wall for the Jews ...
and the military backbase of the Crusader armies and the [Iraqi] government of the [Shi’ites ]... are now in the line of fire of the mujahedin [fighters] and their raids,” it said.

Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Moasher said al-Zarqawi is “certainly the prime suspect”.

The bombings were a long-feared “punishment” by al-Qaeda for Amman’s close ties with the US and its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, said Fares Braizat, of the University of Jordan’s Centre of Strategic Studies.

Borders reopened

Jordan reopened its borders after closing them after the attacks, while increased security was in force at airports and police presence stepped up outside Amman hotels.

A total of 56 people were killed, including 11 foreigners, and 93 other people remain in hospital wounded, according to a revised official toll.

The casualty figures show the dead included at least 15 Jordanians, five Iraqi nationals, three Chinese, a Saudi, a Syrian, a Palestinian and an Indonesian, while the bodies of 30 people had yet to be identified.

Israel radio reported that an Israeli businessman was among the dead.

In the deadliest blast, a suicide bomber blew himself up just after 9pm local time in a hotel ballroom at the Radisson SAS while a Jordanian wedding reception was in full swing.

The bride and groom both lost their fathers and were themselves injured.

“I lost my father and my father-in-law on my wedding night,” the groom, Ashraf Mohammad, said. “The world has to know that this has nothing to do with Islam.”

“I did not know what had happened. I was frozen. Then there was a movement of panic. People ran, others screamed,” said another witness, who was in the Radisson lobby at the time.

Shortly afterwards, a suicide bomber also detonated his charge at the entrance of the Grand Hyatt and a suicide car bomber attacked the three-star Days Inn in the Rabiyeh neighbourhood where the Israeli embassy is located.

‘Justice will pursue the criminals’

Abdullah, who was visiting Kazakhstan at the time of the attacks but returned home at dawn, said the deadly blasts were “terrorist acts” and pledged that “justice will pursue the criminals”.

US President George Bush described the bombings as “cowardly attacks on innocent Jordanians and their guests” and offered help in “bringing the terrorists to justice”.

Amid the worldwide condemnation, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on governments to “fight without compromise” against international terrorism, which “has no nationality and belongs to no religious faith”.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the attacks as “evil” during an unscheduled visit to Amman where he toured the site of the Grand Hyatt blast and said British forensic experts were on their way to help with the probe.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was “greatly saddened” by the bombings and told King Abdullah II in a telephone call that any compromise with terrorism was “forbidden”.

Security sources said an oil tanker caught fire at one of the entry points to Amman just before the attacks, taking large numbers of police far away from the site of the blasts in what might have been a diversionary tactic.

Jordan, one of only three Arab states to have diplomatic links to Israel, has in the past broken up a number of al-Qaeda-linked networks suspected of plotting attacks against US and other Western targets in Jordan.

Zarqawi, who has a $25-million bounty on his head, was condemned to death in absentia in April for the 2002 murder of a US diplomat in Amman. He had been freed under a general amnesty by King Abdullah in 1999.

The last militant strike in Jordan was the rocket attack in August targeting US warships in the Red Sea port of Aqaba that the authorities blamed on Zarqawi’s group.—Sapa-AFP

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