Prague, 27 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Jordan says that it has foiled a plot by Al-Qaeda to launch attacks in the heart of the capital Amman that would have killed tens of thousands of people.
In footage aired yesterday on Jordanian state television, the plot's alleged leaders said they took orders from Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian the United States accuses of leading Al-Qaeda attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq.
The planned attacks in Jordan involved strikes against the U.S. Embassy in Amman and Jordanian government and intelligence targets. Jordan had already reported the plot earlier this month. But the confessions on prime-time television offered graphic details of the alleged attack plans.
The head of the group, Azmi al-Jayousi, said he first met al-Zarqawi in Afghanistan. Al-Zarqawi is suspected of carrying out attacks against Persian Gulf oil terminals on 24 April that killed three Americans and disabled Iraq's biggest terminal for more than 24 hours. "We took courses for Abu Musab [al-Zarqawi] in explosives and poisons to a high level,” al-Jayousi said. “I was faithful to Abu Musab without question. After that, Afghanistan fell, and I met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi again in Iraq."
Al-Jayousi said al-Zarqawi gave him some $170,000 to finance chemical attacks using trucks. Al-Jayousi said he used part of the money to buy 20 tons of chemicals, which he said were "enough for all the operations in the Jordanian arena."
"After that, Muafaq [an unidentified accomplice] and I began gathering the required information on targets and the chemicals required to make the explosives. Then, I started looking for all these chemicals in the companies that specialized in making them, and I was able to buy large quantities from all of these companies," al-Jayousi said.
Al-Jayousi was arrested a month ago along with at least three other suspects, including a Syrian national, who were also shown on the 20-minute taped program. Jordanian officials also said four other suspects believed to be linked to the conspiracy were killed in a shootout with police in Amman last week. One of the captured alleged militants, Hussein Sharif, said he was driven to join the plot by a fervent belief that the attacks would promote the cause of Muslims.
A narrator, without giving a detailed explanation, said up to 80,000 people could have been killed in the attacks, which aimed to spread toxic fumes over a radius of 2 kilometers.
U.S. intelligence sources cited by CNN expressed caution about whether the chemicals allegedly seized were actually capable of forming such a toxic cloud. But at the very least, the sources said, the materials could have been used to create a massive explosion.
The broadcast showed containers said to contain chemicals but did not identify them. The sources cited by CNN said there was a large quantity of sulfuric acid, which can be used as a blister agent but more commonly is used to boost the power of conventional explosions.
After the arrests earlier this month, Jordanian King Abdullah said that "thousands of lives" had been spared.
Jordan is believed to be a target of Al-Qaeda due to its support of Washington's efforts in Iraq and the covert aid it has reportedly given to the U.S. military campaign there.
Airing suspects' confessions before trial is uncommon in Jordan. Media reports say the unusual move may be an attempt to answer critics who claim that the government has exaggerated the terrorist danger in order to justify tightened security.