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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Jordanian Security Forces Arrest Iraqi Woman in Bombings - New York Times

Jordanian Security Forces Arrest Iraqi Woman in Bombings - New York TimesNovember 13, 2005
Jordanian Security Forces Arrest Iraqi Woman in Bombings

AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 13 - Jordanian security officials today announced the arrest of an Iraqi woman alleged to be part of the suicide bomber team in last week's attacks on three hotels here. The arrest was said by experts to be a breakthrough that could yield significant insights into the workings of the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda.

In a taped confession aired on Jordanian state-run television this evening, Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi, 35, said she was meant to be the fourth bomber in what became the worst act of terrorism in the Jordan's history. Ms. Rishawi said she and her husband, Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, had planned to strike a wedding party in the Radisson SAS Hotel. Most of the 57 people who were killed in the attacks died there.

"He took one end and I took another," Ms. Rishawi said, speaking on television. "The hotel had a wedding in it and there were women and children," she said. Dressed in a white headscarf and a bulky dark overcoat, she was shown wearing the explosive belt under her coat.

"My husband exploded, but mine did not explode. And as the people began to run, I ran out with them," she said.

Ms. Rishawi said she and Mr. Shumari left Ramadi, in the western province of Al Anbar in Iraq, for Jordan on Nov. 5 with their devices, intending to bomb hotels in Amman. They rented an apartment in an Amman suburb and a car.

Ms. Rishawi is the sister of Samir Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, a senior aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a former official in the Baath party who was killed in Falluja, Jordanian officials said.

Mr. Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi branch of the terrorist organization, has eluded capture at least twice in Iraq, and has led an increasingly personal campaign against Jordan, security officials said this week.

Ms. Rishawi's confession also raises the specter of the militant group changing its tactics, aiming at other Arabs and Muslims abroad instead of directly at western targets. That would mirror a similar change in strategy by Iraq's insurgency last year, targeting Iraqi civilians instead of military targets.

"This is going to lead to a lot of good intel," said Bernard B. Kerik, former New York City police commissioner, who has been advising the Jordanian government on security issues. The bombing was "a demonstration that this is not about Zarqawi's hatred of America but about his hatred for his own people," Mr. Kerik said of the Jordanian-born militant.

Today, King Abdullah, speaking to CNN, said the bomber's ultimate targets were Jordanians. "Those that know Jordan, the hotels, especially the Days Inn, is a favorite place for Jordanians and Iraqis," King Abdullah said.

"These suicide bombers actually went and aimed at Jordanian targets," he said. "The Radisson Hotel was a Jordanian wedding with Jordanians and Palestinians, where innocent people were killed. So this was nothing to do with the West. This targeted Jordanian citizens, innocent men, women and children."

The three male bombers, all of them Iraqis, were identified as Rawad Jassem Mohammed Abed, 23, Safaa Mohammed Ali, 23, and Mr. Shumari, Ms. Rishawi's husband, also 35. Security men reconstructed the men's bodies and made positive identifications using DNA analysis.

The men set off their belts almost simultaneously at the Radisson Hotel, the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and the Days Inn.

An official with Jordan's intelligence services, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said today that Ms. Rishawi had been spotted on a hotel security camera and police had been searching for her for several days. The presence of a female bomber was announced in an Internet posting attributed to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia Friday night.

It was not immediately clearly exactly when Ms. Rishawi was arrested. Security officials said today that they were still on the lookout for 10 rental cars and several cars with Iraqi plates believed to be tied to the bombing in the continuing investigation.

The Jordanian security officials say they have foiled at least 150 planned attacks by Mr. Zarqawi's group since April 2004 - and another 10 this year alone. They described Mr. Zarqawi as increasingly frustrated at not being able to export his brand of terrorism - indiscriminate and aimed at civilians - out of Iraq.

Officials said today that there was no contact between the bombers and Mr. Zarqawi after they crossed into Jordan.

Jordan's deputy prime minister, Marwan Muasher, said on CNN that several Jordanian followers of Mr. Zarqawi have been arrested. He said that Ms. Rishawi would be put on trial.

The husband and wife team were "both dressed as if they were going to a party," Mr. Muasher said.

The hardware of the attack has so far been easiest to determine. The security officials said the bombers wore suicide belts packed with RDX, a military explosive. The detonators, they said, were, in a novel move, taken from grenades. The hand grenades and explosives were made in Yugoslavia, the officials said. Hand-grenade detonators would be safer to carry over long distances, they said, because a pin must be pulled to set them off.

Mr. Muasher said that the explosive devices were packed with ball bearings to cause the maximum number of casualties.

Jordan and Mr. Zarqawi have been waging war against each other for more than a decade. Mr. Zarqawi was sentenced to life in prison in Jordan in the early 1990's, after returning from Afghanistan, where he had been immersed - from the sidelines - in the world of the mujahedeen fighting the Soviet Union. He was released from prison in 1999 during a general amnesty, and ever since he has been trying to launch attacks in Jordan, the officials said.

"This is personal," said one. "It is a war, a long war."

With his role in the insurgency in Iraq drawing support from many Arabs, Mr. Zarqawi has transformed himself from what Jordanian officials described as a thug and street criminal into a terrorist with money and resources at his disposal. The security officials said Mr. Zarqawi had two wives and that one of them, Intisar, was living with him in Iraq. They also said they had information saying that Mr. Zarqawi now wore an explosive belt at all times, and that he had worked to change his appearance, removing a tattoo from his arm and putting on weight.

One security official, who said he had questioned Mr. Zarqawi on several occasions, described him as vengeful, and recalled that he would insult his interrogators as apostates, or infidels.

"He is a very mean person who holds a grudge," the official said. "He will never forget a bad word said about him He is very vindictive and always looks for revenge."

Michael Slackman contributed reporting from Amman for this article and Christine Hauser from New York.

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