Three hotels hit in Jordan

Scores Are Killed In Coordinated Suicide Bombings In Capital

November 10, 2005|By ASHRAF KHALIL, RANYA KADRI AND JOSH MEYER | ASHRAF KHALIL, RANYA KADRI AND JOSH MEYER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

AMMAN, JORDAN -- Suicide bombers carried out nearly simultaneous attacks on three Western chain hotels here last night, killing at least 57 people, wounding more than 100 others and emphatically ending Jordan's status as an oasis of relative calm in the Middle East.

The blasts struck the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn in the Jordanian capital just before 9 p.m., sending clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky and leaving bloodied victims lying on plush carpeted lobby floors.

At the Radisson, an assailant detonated an explosive belt amid a wedding party in a crowded banquet hall, resulting in extensive casualties, officials said. At the Days Inn, a bomber with a booby-trapped car was unable to breach the security perimeter outside the hotel before detonating his explosives, Deputy Prime Minister Mawan Muasher told reporters.

Emergency workers rushing to the scenes used a bellman's cart to carry the wounded out of the hotels. The flood of victims overwhelmed local hospitals.

A surgeon at Istiqlal Hospital reported "bodies coming left and right." Sixteen corpses were placed in a single room, and dozens of the injured were in peril of dying overnight, the surgeon said.

No group claimed immediate responsibility for the bombings, but Western intelligence officials said the multiple, tightly coordinated suicide attacks focusing on relatively soft targets bore the hallmark of the al-Qaida network. Muasher, in an interview on CNN, said that while it was too early to be sure, he believed al-Qaida-affiliated Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was "obviously the prime suspect."

Jordanian security forces went into high alert, deploying throughout the capital around hotels, embassies and malls. The Jordanian government sealed off the country's land borders and announced that all government and public offices would be closed in mourning today.

Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned the attacks, calling them "criminal acts perpetuated by a misled and misleading group."

Bush's condemnation

In Washington, President Bush said the bombings "again demonstrated the terrible cruelty of the terrorists and the great toll they take on civilized society." Bush, in a statement, pledged full support and assistance for the Jordanian government, which he called "a key ally in the war on terror."

Jordan has long enjoyed a reputation as a safe zone sandwiched between its violent unstable neighbors - Israel and the Palestinian territories to the west, and Iraq to the east. Nestled amid the tumult, Jordan looks at first blush like a sleepy strip of desert and rugged mountains, tourist-friendly and eager to get along politically with the other Arab countries as well as the West.

As suicide attacks took place routinely in Israel, and large-scale bombings have rocked hotels in Egypt and in neighboring Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Jordan had largely escaped the region's violence.

At the same time, the type of attack that occurred yesterday had long been seen by Amman as a possibility that residents had feared might become a reality.

"We've always been concerned about it," said Tahir Masry, a former Jordanian prime minister. "We've known the terrorists have been targeting Jordan for a long time."

Al-Qaida suspected

Initial speculation, both in Jordan and the United States, centered on militants connected to al-Qaida, whose confederates have been helping wage the bloody insurgency against U.S. troops and Iraqi government security forces in neighboring Iraq. Al-Qaida's reported leader in Iraq, al-Zarqawi, is a native Jordanian who has, in past statements, threatened to bring his fight back home.

Current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials pointed out that the Radisson SAS hotel has long been a target of both al-Qaida and Zarqawi's affiliated but independent network. Al-Qaida, they said, has often made repeated attempts on the same target.

Al-Zarqawi, they said, was centrally involved in a plot in late 1999 to target Amman hotels during millennium celebrations. The plot was thwarted by Jordanian intelligence, however, and al-Zarqawi fled back to his base in Afghanistan. He oversaw a terrorist training camp there until the post-Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. military strikes in October 2001. Several dozen militants were convicted in the millennium plot, including al-Zarqawi and others who were tried in absentia.

Early reports indicated that the majority of the victims yesterday were Jordanian civilians. The injured include Moustafa Akad, internationally famed Syrian-born film director of The Message and Lion of the Desert. Akad's 30-year-old daughter, Reem, died in one of the blasts.

Madison Conoley a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Amman, said no American citizens appeared to have been injured. The embassy was advising Americans in Amman to take what the spokesman called "common sense" precautions such as "avoiding large crowds and keeping a low profile."

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