U.S. envoy slain in Jordan's capital

Gunned down at home

ex-Peace Corps volunteer led development program

October 29, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

AMMAN, Jordan - A senior American diplomat in Jordan, Laurence Foley, was gunned down outside his house yesterday, shot eight times at close range in what appeared to be the latest in a string of terror attacks against Western targets in the region and beyond.

The assassination reverberated through this often-sleepy capital, not least among the expatriate community. Foreign residents said they had been rudely awakened to the realization that the potential for escalating violence on both sides of Jordan - in the West Bank as well as in Iraq - could roil a city long considered safe.

The U.S. Embassy in Amman was closed after the attack, and a warning notice was issued to employees and to Americans living in Jordan.

The Jordanian government and U.S. Ambassador Edward W. Gnehm refused to comment on possible suspects or motives for the assassination.

But analysts were quick to point out that numerous small extremist groups unearthed by security forces in Jordan in recent years, including operatives linked to al-Qaida, harbored virulently anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. Such sentiments have mushroomed because of the lack of a resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also because of U.S. threats to attack Iraq.

Rebecca Salti, an American who has lived in Amman for three decades, spoke of a widespread sense in the region that Washington remains in a heedless confrontation with Arabs and Muslims, and said it is creating "a political earthquake."

"There are victims who have to pay the price," she said. "Who is going to be next?"

Jordanian investigators said Foley was shot with a 7 mm pistol about 7:15 a.m., and collapsed in a pool of blood in his driveway next to his maroon Mercedes with its distinctive yellow and white diplomatic license plates. The embassy said that Foley, who was from Oakland, Calif., had been working in Jordan since August 2000 as a senior administrator of the U.S. development assistance program here. He had recently celebrated his 60th birthday and on Sunday received an award for his aid work.

Gnehm, his voice breaking as he noted Foley's long years of service, said the U.S. government was outraged by what he described as a "heinous act."

Neighbors getting their children ready for school yesterday morning said they heard neither gunshots nor the usual barking that the Foleys' golden retriever directed at passing strangers.

"It's something weird, we didn't hear anything," said Osama Rafidi, a jewelry store owner who lives across the street. "We didn't hear gunshots, we didn't hear cars, we didn't hear anyone running, nothing."

"We can usually hear stuff from the street," said his sister-in-law, Reem Rafidi.

Foley's neighbors noted that there occasionally were embassy guards outside the house, a two-story white limestone building with bougainvillea spilling over the walls. But they said no guards were in evidence yesterday morning.

There are about 9,000 American citizens in Jordan - most of them dual nationals - registered with the embassy, said spokesman Justin H. Siberell. Although an Israeli businessman was killed in Foley's neighborhood last year, yesterday's incident was the first known killing of a Western diplomat in the Jordanian capital. Local analysts noted the rising anti-American sentiment in the region.

"The war on terror seems to be breeding more, not less," said Rami Khouri, a Jordanian columnist. "There is no sign that anyone in the U.S. or Israel or the Arab world is addressing the grievances that lie underneath."

While protesters against a war in Iraq have marched in the West, the repressive regimes of the Arab world have blocked most demonstrations. Jordan has largely banned demonstrations since the first few months of the Palestinian uprising that started in September 2000, especially after protesters attacked symbols of economic well-being such as cars.

Experts on political Islam said it was impossible to tell from the recent incidents whether they were ordered by a revived al-Qaida network or simply individuals acting on their anger.

"The idea that you should hit the interests of the West is widespread enough for us to take into consideration that there are individuals who don't need a network," said Francois Burgat, a French expert on Islamic militant groups, when asked about attacks this month in Kuwait, Yemen and Indonesia.

The ambassador and several other American diplomats live behind the fortress-like walls of the new embassy compound. Those who live outside, such as the Foleys, are protected largely by 24-hour random security patrols, Siberell said.

American diplomats are assigned license plates numbered 108 or 109, but Gnehm noted that those who did not want such plates could get ordinary tags. The Foleys' Mercedes-Benzes parked in the driveway and a red Jeep Cherokee parked in front of the house had the 109 number plates.

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