Bomber's wife is arrested

Iraqi failed to blow herself up at hotel in Jordan, she says in taped confession

November 14, 2005|By ASHRAF KHALIL | ASHRAF KHALIL,LOS ANGELES TIMES

AMMAN, JORDAN -- An Iraqi woman appeared on Jordanian state television yesterday and confessed to being the fourth member of an al-Qaida suicide bomber team that attacked three hotels in Amman last week, killing 57 people.

The woman calmly identified herself as Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, 35, a native of the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi. The footage showed her standing and turning to display what was described as a deactivated explosive belt wrapped around her body.

Jordanian officials said she had been captured yesterday in Amman. They would not say whether she was wearing the bomb belt before the taping or was told to wear it by her interrogators. It is also unclear to what extent, or whether, she had been coerced into making the confession.

In a detached, matter-of-fact monotone, al-Rishawi described how she and her husband, Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, 35, planned to attack a crowded wedding party in the Radisson SAS hotel Wednesday.

"We had two [explosive] belts. [Al-Shamari] wore one and I wore one," she said.

"He took a corner and I took another corner" of the hotel's banquet hall, which was crowded with wedding guests, she said. "I tried to detonate [the belt], but it didn't work."

Instead, al-Rishawi said, she watched as her husband detonated his device. "People started running out of the hotel, and I ran with them," she said.

Al-Rishawi, who didn't appear to be under immediate duress or pressure, recounted how she, al-Shamari and two other Iraqis entered Jordan on forged Iraqi passports several days before the hotel attacks. Al-Rishawi described how the group rented a furnished apartment in Amman and said her husband instructed her in how to set off her explosives.

Jordanian authorities have identified their accomplices as Rawad Jassem Mohammed Abed and Safaa Mohammed Ali, both 23, who they say carried out the nearly simultaneous suicide attacks on the Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels.

In a related development, a U.S. military spokesman told Knight Ridder Newspapers yesterday that Ali apparently was detained and released last year by U.S. forces in Iraq who determined that he was not a threat to security.

Insurgent sources in Iraq and one of Ali's colleagues at a factory in Fallujah said in separate interviews that Ali was detained in November 2004, when he was injured while fighting U.S.-led forces - information that corresponds with the U.S. military's account.

The military spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, emphasized that the U.S. military could not be certain that the detainee was the same man who blew himself up in Amman last week. But in Iraq, those who knew Ali said they were sure it was the same person.

The three attacks in Jordan shocked a nation that had previously prided itself on being an oasis of safety and stability in the Middle East.

King Abdullah II called yesterday for a renewed global effort to combat terrorism.

"This is a phenomenon that brings us closer together because the only way we can overcome these extremists is to be united," he told a convention of international news agencies meeting in Amman, the Jordanian capital. "I think that this has dawned on the international community in the past several years."

That counterterrorism effort might now find new supporters in Jordan as a consequence of last week's attacks. Public sentiment here has been largely sympathetic to suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq, regarding both as legitimate acts of resistance against occupation.

The strong support for the Palestinian resistance is unlikely to waver in a country where as much as half the population is of Palestinian descent. But last week's attacks on civilian targets horrified the nation and should "put an end to any shred of sympathy" for the Iraqi insurgency, said Hasan Abu Nimah, a former Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations.

Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher said the four bombers were working on the orders of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant who leads al-Qaida in Iraq.

Muasher said that al-Rishawi was the sister of a senior al-Zarqawi lieutenant who was killed in Fallujah. He said the belt she was wearing was, in fact, two belts: one loaded with between 11 and 22 pounds of explosives and a second containing ball bearings designed to inflict maximum casualties.

The use of a female bomber, he said, "is certainly a new factor ... and will cause us to adjust our [security] methods."

An Internet statement in al-Zarqawi's name, posted just after the bombings, claimed the attacks had been carried out by four Iraqis, including a husband and wife team. But al-Rishawi, in her brief televised statement, made no mention of al-Qaida or al-Zarqawi and gave no indication of the motivations for the attack or the choice of targets.

"I'm sure they got more information from her," said Abu Nimah, who also served as ambassador to Iraq in the late 1960s. "The idea was just to show that there was a confession without releasing details that might compromise the investigation."

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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