Details emerge in Jordan hotel bombings

November 15, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The American military command said yesterday that U.S. troops had detained a man last year with the same name as one of the Iraqis involved in the bombing attacks in Jordan last week, but had released him because he was judged not to be a threat.

Safaa Mohammad Ali was detained by the Americans in November 2004 as Marine-led forces were laying siege to the guerrilla stronghold of Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. Ali was held for about two weeks at a division-level detention area.

"A review of the circumstances of his capture by the unit determined there was no compelling evidence that he was a threat to the security of Iraq, and he was therefore released," the military said. "We cannot confirm that the person we detained is the same person allegedly involved in the bombings in Jordan."

American troops often detain large numbers of Iraqis in operations and raids, releasing many of them days later after determining that they do not pose a threat or have no useful information about the insurgency.

The Fallujah offensive was the most intense urban combat the Marine Corps had taken part in since the Vietnam War, and many young Iraqi men seized during the fighting were placed in detention centers. Support for the insurgency was fairly widespread in Fallujah, a Sunni-dominated city of 300,000 that is strongly religious.

The military's statement came a day after Jordanian officials announced the arrest of an Iraqi woman who said she had failed to blow herself up in the bombings, and it raises further questions about whether the war in Iraq has transformed this country into a training ground for militants intent on exporting terrorism elsewhere.

Suicide bombings were virtually nonexistent under the repressive, secular government of Saddam Hussein. Now, driven by hatred of the American presence and zealots such as Jordanian native Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, angry Iraqis and foreign Arabs are rallying beneath the banner of suicide-style jihad.

The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, led by al-Zarqawi, has taken responsibility for the hotel bombings.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari strongly condemned the participation of Iraqis in the Jordan attacks, which killed at least 57 in three hotels. But he urged Jordanians not to feel embittered, saying yesterday that "there is a conspiracy against the Jordanian people to embitter our Jordanian sons and daughters against their Iraqi sons and brothers."

Al-Jaafari pointed out that three senior Iraqi oil officials had died in the hotel bombings. He denounced the alleged failed bomber, Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, 35, as "a woman who does not understand a thing except the culture of hatred and spite."

Jordanian officials say al-Rishawi was one of four bombers, all Iraqis, who strapped on explosives Wednesday and went to three hotels in Amman. Al-Rishawi's husband, Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, 35, accompanied her to a ballroom in the Radisson, where a Jordanian wedding party was taking place, while the other two bombers, both men, went alone to their destinations. The three men - one of whom was a 23-year-old with the same name as Ali, the detainee - detonated their explosives almost simultaneously.

Al-Rishawi comes from Fallujah, and she belongs to the same tribe as Sadoun al-Dulaimi, the Iraqi defense minister. Jordanian officials said one of her brothers had been a senior aide to Zarqawi.

Residents of Fallujah said yesterday that the brother's name was Thamer Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi and that he was killed in fighting in April 2004, when the Marines tried assaulting the city after four American security contractors were ambushed, shot dead and mutilated. Thamer al-Rishawi was the leader of an insurgent cell but was not as high-ranking in the al-Zarqawi organization as the Jordanians had stated, the residents said.

The residents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by insurgents, said two other Rishawi brothers and two additional relatives were also killed in confrontations with U.S. forces in Anbar province, the western Sunni-dominated swath of desert that includes Fallujah.

The city is now virtually a police state, with random checkpoints and frequent street patrols by Marines and Iraqi soldiers, mainly Shiite Arabs. The Central Intelligence Agency recently issued reports warning that a new generation of jihadists was being trained in the Iraq war, and that these fighters could soon take their cause to other countries, as the mujahedeen in Afghanistan did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

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