Jordan mourns its dead

United Nations chief Kofi Annan was headed to Amman on Friday as Jordanians mourned victims of deadly attacks on three luxury hotels claimed by al-Qaeda, which jolted one of Washington’s staunchest Middle East allies.

Jordanian authorities were hunting down the perpetrators of Wednesday’s suicide carnage, which devastated a kingdom regarded as one of the safest nations in the volatile region.

The death toll rose to 57 after renowned Hollywood film director Mustafa Akkad, a Syrian and US national, died of injuries sustained in one of the hotel blasts, a family friend said.

More than 100 were hurt in the attacks, which targeted three luxury hotels frequented by foreign residents and Westerners travelling to neighbouring Iraq.

Akkad (68) was wounded in the neck in the attack that also killed his 33-year-old daughter Rima. He is best known for his 1977 epic The Message: The Story of Islam, which starred Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas.

Mourners were heading to mosques for special prayers for the dead at Husseini mosque in the capital, to be followed by a protest march organised by Jordanian opposition parties and trade unions.

The blasts, the first suicide attacks on Jordanian territory, shattered the notion that Jordan might be invincible to terror strikes by opponents of the US military campaign in Iraq.

The UN Security Council condemned the bombings “in the strongest possible terms” and said it is imperative “to bring the perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors ... to justice”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, currently in Iraq on a regional tour, said she too was ready to go to Jordan if she could be of assistance.

Al-Zarqawi ‘using Iraq as base’

In Washington, a US intelligence official said the claim of responsibility by al-Qaeda’s Baraibn al-Malik Brigade was the strongest indication yet that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, is using Iraq as a base from which to expand his operations in the region.

“The Jordanian press is reporting at least two [bombers] are likely Iraqis.
We have no definitive answer as to whether they are Iraqi or not,” the official said.

“However, the name of the group is the same name that al-Qaeda uses in Iraq for their suicide martyr unit. So it stands to reason it is likely that they are Iraqi.”

King Abdullah II vowed in a televised speech to catch those behind the bombings and said his country, only the second Arab nation to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, will not be “blackmailed” into changing its policies.

Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Moasher said al-Zarqawi is “certainly the prime suspect” and that remains of the three bombers have been found but not yet identified.

Al-Zarqawi was released from a Jordanian jail in 1999 under a general amnesty granted by King Abdullah but now faces a death sentence in Jordan for the killing of a US diplomat in 2002 and is wanted for a number of attack plots.

He and his al-Qaeda supporters are blamed for some of the worst attacks in Iraq.

Security officials said Iraqis were among those arrested in the investigation and that two of the six vehicles seized soon after the attacks had Iraqi licence plates.

Call for national unity

Al-Dustur newspaper reported that the bomb at the Hyatt hotel appeared to have been home-made, packed with metallic pieces to ensure it did the greatest harm, and added that a leg of one of the bombers had been recovered.

Al-Dustur appealed for national solidarity “because the kind of war declared on our country needs the broadest possible measure of unity”.

The English-language Jordan Times described Wednesday’s slaughter as “the deepest and most painful wound to have ever been inflicted on this nation”.

“Terrorists hit Jordan because it embodies what they despise most: peace. They hit us because we are the champions of the true Islam of tolerance, dignity, respect for human life and understanding of the other.”

Wednesday’s attacks have drawn widespread international revulsion. US President George Bush expressed “horror” at the bombings, while the British presidency of the European Union condemned what it called “outrageous attacks against innocent people”, saying they strengthen the EU’s resolve to tackle terrorism.

One bomber blew himself up in a ballroom as a wedding party was in full swing, killing the fathers of the bride and the groom and causing panic among the revellers.

Saeed Abu Hasna, chief of the intensive-care unit at a United Arab Emirates hospital, was knocked out of bed when the blast rocked his room directly above the ballroom.

“I ran down and saw bodies everywhere. Five of them were smoking. All of them were bloody,” Abu Hasna said. “I will never forget this. It was a horrible, horrible scene.”—Sapa-AFP

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