Joy, then mourning

16 people at wedding party in Radisson ballroom were among those killed

November 11, 2005|By JOHN MURPHY | JOHN MURPHY,SUN FOREIGN REPORTER

AMMAN, JORDAN — No one noticed the uninvited guest slip inside the wedding party in the ballroom of the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman on Wednesday night. The 260 relatives and friends of the groom, Ashraf Da'as, 32, and his 24-year-old bride, Nadia, were too busy singing, dancing and feasting, awaiting the start of the couple's grand wedding procession.

But yesterday evening, as members of the wedding party gathered in a cemetery to bury the 16 people the intruder wearing explosives killed, no one could get the bomber and his possible motivations out of their minds.

"So many innocent people died, you see," said Da'as, gesturing toward the freshly covered graves of his wedding guests as he stood in the twilight in Sahab Cemetery south of Amman. "We have to ask them, why are they killing innocent people?"

It was a question raised across the country yesterday as Jordanians struggled to understand the bombings that tore through three hotels in Jordan's capital, killing at least 56 people and injuring more than 100.

The dead included 33 Jordanians, six Iraqis, two Bahrainis, at least two Chinese, two Americans, an Indonesian and a Saudi, the Associated Press reported. The others had yet to be identified.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility in a Web site posting. The claim, which could not be verified, said that Jordan had become a target because it was "a backyard garden for the enemies of the religion, Jews and crusaders ... a filthy place for the traitors ... and a center for prostitution," the Associated Press reported.

Signed in the name of the spokesman for Al-Qaida in Iraq, the statement said the attacks put the United States on notice that the "backyard camp for the crusader army is now in the range of fire of the holy warriors." Jordanian officials named al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the "prime suspect" in the bombings that hit the hotels about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

King Abdullah vowed in a nationally televised address to "pursue those criminals and those behind them, and we will get to them wherever they are."

For many Jordanians, the violence shook the country's long-standing reputation as a small nation that, for more than a generation, has been an oasis of peace and security in the Middle East. Open to Western ideas, Jordan has performed a diplomatic high wire act of maintaining friendly relations with Israel, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Saudi Arabia while also nurturing close ties with United States.

After bombers targeted Egypt's Red Sea resorts, tourists continued to flock to Jordan's deserts, bathe in the Dead Sea and hike through the ancient city of Petra, drawn by the country's reputation for security.

Since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, Jordan has increased its economic and political ties with neighboring Iraq and served as an important staging ground for contractors, aid workers and U.S. officials - despite widespread opposition in Jordan to the war.

But this week's bombings are stirring fears that Jordan's image of calm might be only an illusion. Perhaps the bombings are a sign that the insurgency that left Iraq a land of chaos and turmoil is now pushing beyond the border into Jordan. Were these blasts, some ask, the first of many more attacks to come?

"Jordan has always been very stable and safe in the world. Maybe they thought they could destabilize the country," said Amar Khalil, of Amman, who stood outside the damaged Radisson Hotel yesterday afternoon with his wife and three children.

Khalil hoped to prove the attackers wrong. He was one of hundreds of Jordanians who poured into the streets of the hilly capital yesterday, condemning the bombings and expressing support for Jordan's king.

Organized by professional and trade unions, the rallies were loud and raucous, in contrast to the somber state of mourning the state had declared.

Drivers sounded their horns. Jordanian flags fluttered from car antennas and from the sides of buildings. Old men, teenagers and families gathered outside the three bombed hotels, holding photos of King Abdullah, waving flags and shouting their support for their government.

"Jordan is never scared," chanted demonstrators, vowing not to be cowed by the bombings.

At the Grand Hyatt, the hotel management was clearly eager to put the bombing behind it, ordering crews to begin replacing damaged windows and doors.

And yet away from the demonstrations, the city appeared to be on edge. Police and soldiers set up roadblocks outside major hotels and on roads entering the city. All schools, government offices and many businesses were closed.

Even as many demonstrators put on a brave face, their fears showed through.

Nuha Jazarawi, 30, whose friend was killed in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, said she was confused by the bombings, unsure what message the people who planned them hoped to deliver or what they hoped to gain.

"We expected it would happen. But not huge like this. This is really close to us," she said.

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