Suicide Attacks Kill at Least 57 at 3 Hotels in Jordan's Capital
The tightly coordinated blasts bear the hallmark of Al Qaeda,
intelligence officials say, and shred the nation's reputation as a
relatively safe zone.
By Ashraf Khalil, Ranya Kadri and Josh Meyer
Special to The Times
Angeles Times" -- -- AMMAN, Jordan — Suicide bombers
carried out nearly simultaneous attacks on three Western chain
hotels here Wednesday night, killing at least 57 people, wounding
more than 100 and emphatically ending Jordan's status as an oasis of
relative calm in the Middle East.
The blasts struck the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn in the
Jordanian capital just before 9 p.m., sending clouds of black smoke
billowing into the sky and leaving some of the bloodied victims
lying on plush-carpeted floors.
At the Radisson, an assailant detonated an explosives belt in the
midst of a wedding party in a crowded banquet hall, resulting in
extensive casualties, officials said. At the Days Inn, a car bomber
was unable to breach the security perimeter outside the hotel before
detonating his explosives, Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher told
Emergency workers rushing to the scenes used bellman's carts to
carry the wounded out of the hotels. The flood of victims
overwhelmed local hospitals.
A surgeon at Istiqlal Hospital reported "bodies coming left and
right." Sixteen corpses were placed in a single room and dozens of
the injured were in danger of dying overnight, the surgeon said.
No group claimed immediate responsibility for the bombings, but
Western intelligence officials said the multiple, tightly
coordinated suicide attacks focusing on relatively soft targets bore
the hallmark of the Al Qaeda network. Muasher, in an interview on
CNN, said that although it was too early to tell for sure, he
believed Al Qaeda-affiliated Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab
Zarqawi was "obviously the prime suspect."
Early reports indicated that the majority of the victims Wednesday
were Jordanian civilians. The injured included Moustapha Akkad, the
internationally famed Syrian-born film director of "The Message" and
"Lion of the Desert." Akkad's 30-year-old daughter, Reem, died in
one of the blasts.
Madison Conoley, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Amman, said no
American citizens were known to have been injured. Associated Press
reported that an American at the Hyatt, speaking with a Southern
drawl, had said, "My friends are dead." The blast shattered the
entrance to the five-star hotel.
Reuters quoted a French U.N. official as saying, "I was eating with
friends in the restaurant next to the bar when I saw a huge ball of
fire shoot up to the ceiling and then everything went black."
The U.S. Embassy was advising Americans in Amman to take what the
spokesman called "common sense" precautions such as "avoiding large
crowds and keeping a low profile."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israelis staying at the
Radisson on Wednesday had been evacuated before the attacks and
escorted back home "apparently due to a specific security threat."
Amos N. Guiora, a former senior Israeli counter-terrorism official,
said in a phone interview with The Times that sources in Israel had
also told him about the pre-attack evacuations.
"It means there was excellent intelligence that this thing was going
to happen," said Guiora, a former leader of the Israel Defense
Forces who now heads the Institute for Global Security Law and
Policy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "The
question that needs to be answered is why weren't the Jordanians
working at the hotel similarly removed?"
Jordanian security forces were placed on high alert, deploying
throughout the capital around hotels, embassies and malls. The
Jordanian government sealed off the borders and announced that all
government and public offices would be closed in mourning today.
Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned the attacks, calling them
criminal acts committed by "a misled and misleading group."
In Washington, President Bush said the bombings "again demonstrated
the terrible cruelty of the terrorists and the great toll they take
on civilized society." Bush, in a statement, pledged full support
and assistance for the Jordanian government, which he called "a key
ally in the war on terror."
Jordan has long enjoyed a reputation as a safe zone sandwiched
between its violent, unstable neighbors — Israel and the Palestinian
territories to the west and Iraq to the east. Nestled amid the
tumult, Jordan looks at first like a sleepy strip of desert and
rugged mountains, tourist-friendly and eager to get along
politically with other Arab countries as well as the West.
As suicide attacks took place routinely in Israel, large-scale
bombings rocked hotels in Egypt and an insurgency raged in Iraq
after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, Jordan largely escaped the
At the same time, the type of attack that occurred Wednesday had
long been seen by Amman as a possibility.
"We've always been concerned about it," said Taher Masri, a former
Jordanian prime minister. "We've known the terrorists have been
targeting Jordan for a long time."
Al Qaeda's confederates have been helping wage the bloody insurgency
against U.S. troops and government security forces in Iraq. Al
Qaeda's reported leader there, Zarqawi, has in past statements
threatened to bring his fight home.
Current and former U.S. counter-terrorism officials pointed out that
the Radisson SAS hotel has in the past been a target of both Al
Qaeda and Zarqawi's affiliated but independent network. Al Qaeda,
they said, has made repeated attempts on the same target.
Zarqawi, they said, was centrally involved in a plot in late 1999 to
target Amman hotels during millennium celebrations. The plot was
thwarted by Jordanian intelligence, and Zarqawi fled to his base in
Afghanistan. He oversaw a terrorist training camp there until the
post-Sept. 11 U.S. military strikes in October 2001. Several dozen
militants were eventually convicted in the millennium plot,
including Zarqawi and others in absentia.
Jordan's peaceful reputation may have been what drew the attackers
to it, said Labib Kamhawi, a former political science professor at
Jordan University in Amman.
"The more Jordan stressed this, the more determined these groups
were to disrupt that safety," Kamhawi said.
The kingdom's security and intelligence services have long been
known for skillful spy work — and tough crackdowns against Islamic
extremists and other would-be agitators.
One Western diplomat in Amman, in a 2004 interview, called Jordan
"the most effective police state in the region."
But the threat of unrest has lurked beneath the surface for years.
Jordan is poor, and its political life stifled. The population is
heavily Palestinian, and public sympathy for the Palestinian cause
put the government under intense pressure as it negotiated peace
with Israel and kept up close ties with the U.S.
The war in Iraq and the grinding insurgency there further eroded
stability, analysts say. Jordan became a staging ground for
contractors, journalists, aid workers and diplomats headed into Iraq
— and a refuge for Iraqis fleeing the chaos. With public sentiment
squarely against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Jordanian
government has continued its public support for the United States.
"[Jordan] was always a fragile oasis," said Joost Hiltermann, an
Amman-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. " … It was
only a matter of time before somebody got through."
Cracks have been showing in Jordan's seemingly impermeable security
screen in recent years. In 2002, U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley was
gunned down in front of his house in Amman. Earlier this year,
militants in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba launched homemade
missiles, narrowly missing a U.S. warship and killing a Jordanian
Masri, the former prime minister, said the attacks proved that the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 had begun to seriously destabilize
"Iraq was not the source of terrorism [before the invasion]," Masri
said, "but now it has become exactly that."
The bombings could prompt an exodus by the international aid
organizations and multinational contracting and security companies
for whom Jordan has served as a safe staging point for operations in
Iraq. Kamhawi, the political analyst, predicted an abrupt end to
Jordan's ongoing economic boom.
"A lot of the investments are coming because Jordan is safe," he
said. "We don't have oil. We don't have water. All we have is
Times staff writer Khalil reported from Cairo, staff writer Meyer
from Washington and special correspondent Kadri from Amman. Staff
writer Megan K. Stack in Bahrain also contributed to this report.
Source: Associated Press & Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
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