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Thursday, November 10, 2005

At Least 57 Dead, Scores Wounded in Jordan Hotel Attack - New York Times

At Least 57 Dead, Scores Wounded in Jordan Hotel Attack - New York TimesNovember 10, 2005
At Least 57 Dead, Scores Wounded in Jordan Hotel Attack
By HASSAN M. FATTAH and MICHAEL SLACKMAN

AMMAN, Jordan, Thursday, Nov. 10 - Terrorist bombs ripped nearly simultaneously through three popular hotels here on Wednesday night, killing dozens and wounding more than 100.

The bombs tore through the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, hit a wedding party at the Radisson SAS Hotel down the street, and exploded at the Days Inn Hotel, all within minutes. The largest number of victims were at the Radisson wedding, where numerous Jordanian notables were in attendance.

The Jordanian cabinet said in a statement that the attacks, which killed 57 people and wounded 110, appeared to have been carried out by suicide bombers. Amman, the capital, was placed under a severe security lockdown late Wednesday with streets closed and the police donning heavy armor. Members of Jordan's secret intelligence police force were also out in full force.

Ambulance workers and hotel staff members carried the dead and injured out of the hotels on gurneys and handcars usually reserved for baggage. There was chaos and confusion at the three sites. While frequented by Westerners, the hotels employed large numbers of Jordanians.

"There was a noise, then there was silence and no one could tell what happened," said Marwan Qusous, an owner of Kanabaye, a nightclub a few yards from the Grand Hyatt, who discovered that two of his friends had been killed. "I never expected something like this to happen to Jordan. This is our Jordan, and I will fight this with my every means."

At the Khalidi Hospital, less than a mile away from the Grand Hyatt blast, witnesses said at least five bodies had been brought in, some of them decapitated, and dozens of victims were being treated. A few families crowded into the emergency room waiting area, and some came later to check on relatives who had been injured.

By Thursday morning, no group had claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion immediately fell on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - the Jordanian leader of an insurgent group in Iraq, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who in 2004 was sentenced, in absentia, to death by a Jordanian military court for his role in killing an American diplomat two years earlier.

Because of Mr. Zarqawi's terrorist activities in Iraq, the United States has offered a $25 million reward for any help in capturing him.

In April 2004, Mr. Zarqawi taped a seven-minute statement that appeared on several Islamic Web sites. It claimed responsibility for several bombing attempts in Jordan and stated his interest in attacking Jordan.

"What is coming is more vicious and bitter," Mr. Zarqawi said in the statement, according to a transcript of the message.

In Washington, a counterterrorism official said, "In terms of capability and intent, Zarqawi has to be at the top of the list, and there are strong suspicions that he was responsible."

Jordan has been a target of foiled terrorist attempts in the past. In July, there was a failed multiple-rocket attack against two American warships in the southern port city of Aqaba. Jordan is viewed with contempt by Islamic extremists for its peace treaty and ties with Israel, its neighbor, and its close links with Washington. Jordan has provided crucial logistical support to the United States during the war in Iraq. Nonetheless, hotel security in Amman has long been light.

King Abdullah cut short a visit to Kazakhstan and returned home. He was scheduled to visit Tel Aviv next Monday for a ceremony marking the opening of a center in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, the slain prime minister. It was unclear if that visit would proceed.

All government offices and schools were scheduled to be closed on Thursday, and Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations postponed plans to visit Amman.

In Amman, an ad hoc demonstration began at 1:00 a.m. as young men and taxi drivers gathered and drove through the city, honking their horns and chanting words of support for King Abdullah.

"Al Zarqawi does not represent us, even if he were my brother," said Burhan Manaseer, who joined the demonstration. "This is a march of solidarity, and at a time like this our unity is stronger."

The White House condemned the strikes as "a heinous act of terror" against innocent civilians. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the attacks were a "great tragedy."

In a statement released by the royal court, the king said: "The terrorist attacks that targeted three hotels in Amman are criminal acts carried out by terrorist groups. Jordan remains determined to pursue its fight against the criminals who wanted by their acts to target innocent civilians."

He added that Jordan would "remain a safe country."

The attacks began about 8:50 p.m. on Wednesday, with the first blast going off in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt. Officials said the most damaging explosion occurred in a ballroom packed with wedding guests inside the Radisson. Officials said the explosion at the Days Inn might have been a car bomb.

The nearly simultaneous explosions at three hotels seemed to echo a plot foiled by Jordanian security agents in 2000 in which terrorists linked to Al Qaeda planned to bomb four popular hotels. The Radisson was one of the intended targets in the 2000 plot.

The hotels, all within walking distance of one another, are popular among foreigners, including diplomats and journalists working in the city.

Jordan is known for one of the most effective intelligence operations in the Middle East, with a network of agents who at times have succeeded in infiltrating rogue operations. The United States has often looked to Jordan for help with information picked up by its intelligence agents.

But Jordan has not escaped terrorism. In 2002, an American diplomat, Laurence Foley, was fatally shot in the front yard of his Amman home. Two years later, a Jordanian military court sentenced eight men to death for taking part in that killing, six in absentia. One of those men was Mr. Zarqawi, the Jordanian who has identified himself as the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and who is one of the most wanted terrorists in connection with the Iraq insurgency.

Hassan M. Fattah reported from Amman for this article, and Michael Slackman from Cairo. Douglas Jehl contributed reporting from Washington, and Suha Maayeh from Amman.

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