Accessibility links

Iraq: Al-Zarqawi Brings Al-Qaeda's Jihad To Jordan

  • Kathleen Ridolfo

One of the three hotels that was bombed on 9 November (AFP) Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the 9 November bombing of three hotels in Amman, Jordan, claiming that his Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers) was behind the deadly attacks.

The bombings appear to be in retaliation against Jordan, which is one of the United States' staunchest allies in the region. Jordan is also Iraq's closest Arab ally, having done more than any other Arab state to help facilitate Iraq's transition to democracy in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

A Friend To East And West

The global war on terror has left Jordan in a precarious position. Wedged between the Palestinian West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, the kingdom has tried to balance Arab loyalties and Western alliances -- particularly with the United States and Israel -- that are not accepted in much of the Arab world. Jordan quietly lent support to the United States during the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom and King Abdallah II offered safe haven to two of Hussein's daughters, giving them and their children homes and monthly allowances on the stipulation that they do not become politically active in the kingdom.
A survey released in July found that support for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has risen over the last two years
from 55 percent to 60 percent.


In the postwar era, Jordan has played a crucial role in the rebuilding of Iraq, by facilitating everything from summits to workshops for various U.S. and Iraqi government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Moreover, Iraq has become Jordan's second-most-important trading partner, accounting for 16 percent -- or $42.4 million of Jordanian exports (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 28 March 2005).

While Jordan has not been immune to terrorism, it has gone largely unscathed in recent years. But as a 19 August attack on a Jordanian naval ship docked in the port of Al-Aqabah shows, Jordan is increasingly having to deal with the wrath of Al-Qaeda. Insurgents purportedly linked to al-Zarqawi fired three Katyusha rockets at the ship but missed, though one Jordanian sailor was killed in the attack.

That attack and subsequent discovery of an Iraqi criminal ring that produced counterfeit passports and documents operating in Amman, prompted the Jordanian government to announce that it would invest $85 million to improve security along its border with Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2005). At the time of the announcement, Jordanian officials said that the border authorities were working at 10 times their normal capacity, checking some 1,500 vehicles and 5,000 passengers daily.

In June, Jordanian Colonel Isam Hijazin, director of the Al-Karamah border crossing between Jordan and Iraq, estimated that 150 forged Iraqi passports are discovered among travelers crossing into Jordan every day. Hijazin said that despite the large amount of traffic, people tended to pass through the border quickly, spending an average of five minutes to complete their transactions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005).

Al-Zarqawi Wanted For Other Attacks

Al-Zarqawi served seven years in a Jordanian prison from 1992-99 on charges of trying to overthrow the monarchy. Soon after his release, he was charged with plotting to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman just before New Year's Day 2000. Al-Zarqawi fled the country and Jordan has been pursuing him ever since.

The Jordanian government sentenced al-Zarqawi to death in absentia in early 2004 for his involvement in the October 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman.

In October 2004, he was indicted along with 12 others on charges related to a planned chemical attack against the Jordanian General Intelligence Department.

In October 2005, the U.S. National Intelligence Directorate (http://www.dni.gov) released a translation of a letter intercepted in Iraq and dated 9 July from Al-Qaeda mastermind Ayman al-Zawahri to al-Zarqawi, advising him to "extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq."

Jordan has no choice but to deal with Al-Qaeda head on. The kingdom has a strong security apparatus, but it will also need to deal with the national mindset. A Pew Global Attitudes survey released in July found that support for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has risen over the last two years from 55 percent to 60 percent (http://pewglobal.org). Twenty-five percent of respondents said they had "a lot of confidence" in bin Laden. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said violence against civilian targets was "often/sometimes justified," up from 43 percent in the summer of 2002. Surprisingly, 87 percent of respondents said Islamic terrorism was not a threat to their country.

Al-Zarqawi Claims Responsibility

In a 10 November Internet statement (http://www.alfirdaws.org/forums), al-Zarqawi said the organization's Al-Bara' Ibn-Malik Brigade carried out the Amman hotel bombings, which the statement referred to as "a new conquest."

"It was decided to carry out the attacks against some hotels which were transformed by the tyrant of Jordan into a backyard for the enemies of the faith, from the Jews and the Crusaders, a dirty pasture for the traitors of the nation, the apostates, a safe haven for the intelligence of the infidels who run their plots against the Muslims.... and a center for whoredom and immorality, fighting against God," the statement claimed.

Addressing Jordan's King Abdallah II, it added: "Let the tyrant of Amman know that the protection wall for the Jews, which was built in east Jordan, and the backup military camp to the armies of the Crusaders and [Iraq's Shi'ite-led government], is now a target for the mujahedin and their conquests."

Fifty-six people were killed and more than 100 were reported wounded in the 9 November bombings of the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS, and Days Inn hotels in Amman.

The three near-simultaneous bombings appeared to be carried out by suicide bombers. At the Radisson SAS, a bomb detonated in the hotel's ballroom, where a 300-guest wedding was under way. The bomb at the Grand Hyatt was detonated in the hotel lobby. Officials said they believed the Days Inn attack was the result of a car bomb.

Amman's "Al-Ghadd" newspaper reported on 10 November that the majority of the victims in the attacks were Jordanian nationals. Three Iraqi nationals were also killed and five others wounded. Other victims included German, U.S., Swiss, Saudi, Chinese, and Indonesian nationals, "Al-Ghadd" reported.

Bethlehem's Ma'an news agency (http://www.maannews.net) reported that three Palestinian officials were among those killed at the Hyatt hotel blast: Brigadier General Bashir Nafi, the head of Palestinian Intelligence in the West Bank; Jihad Fattuh, commercial attache at the Palestinian Embassy in Egypt; and Abed Allun, director-general of the Palestinian Interior Ministry. The former director-general of the Palestinian Communications Ministry, Mus'ab Ahmad Khurma, was also killed.

Three Iraqis were reportedly arrested in Amman on 9 November after they were found to be in possession of maps of "sensitive locations," according to Al-Arabiyah television. No further details were given on the arrests and it is unclear whether they are connected to the hotel bombings.

Meanwhile, Jordan's state-run news agency Petra cited a source from the Jordanian Public Security Department on 10 November as saying that a number of suspects were apprehended and several vehicles seized in connection with the attacks. The source said that the suspects remained under interrogation. Jordan had closed its borders immediately after the attacks, but reopened them the following morning.

RFE/RL Iraq Report


SUBSCRIBE For weekly news and analysis on Iraq by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Iraq Report."
XS
SM
MD
LG