Attackers fire three missiles from Jordan

Saturday, August 20, 2005

AMMAN, Jordan -- Unknown assailants fired at least three missiles from Jordan early Friday, with one narrowly missing a U.S. Navy ship docked at port, an attack that killed a Jordanian soldier. One missile fell close to an airport in neighboring Israel, officials said.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said two American amphibious ships were docked in Aqaba when a mortar was fired toward them. The vessels later sailed out of port as a result of the attacks, U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cdr. Charlie Brown said.

Fatally wounded

Jordanian soldier Ahmed Jamal Saleh was fatally wounded when the mortar sailed over one of the U.S. ships and slammed into a warehouse, a Jordanian security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The soldier died in the ambulance taking him to hospital; another Jordanian was also wounded, the official added.

"At approximately 8:44 a.m. local time, a suspected mortar rocket flew over the USS Ashland's bow and impacted in a warehouse on the pier in the vicinity of the Ashland and USS Kearsage," Brown said. "The warehouse sustained an approximate 8-foot hole in the roof of the building."

No sailors or Marines were injured in the attack, Brown said.

A Jordanian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said another missile landed near a Jordanian hospital.

The attacks were believed to have been launched from a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Aqaba, a Jordanian Red Sea port 210 miles south of the capital, Amman, officials said.

A time of tension

The attacks come amid a time of tension in the region marked by Israel's withdrawal from the Palestinian Gaza and several terrorist attacks on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula during the past year, including the July 23 attack in Sharm el-Sheik.

Aqaba and Eilat are about 10 miles apart and located on either side the Jordan-Israeli border at the northern end of the Red Sea close to Sinai Peninsula.

Israeli police and witnesses said a Katyusha rocket fired from Jordan hit a taxi traveling near the airport in Israel's nearby resort of Eilat, but did not explode.

"I heard a noise, the car shook, and I kept driving for two more meters (yards)," said Israeli cab driver Meir Farhan, 40, who suffered mild wounds. "I didn't realize what it was. When I went out of the car I saw a hole in the ground on the asphalt."

The rocket left a small crater in the road about 15 yards from the Eilat airport fence, said local police commander Avi Azulin.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking in southern Israel, said the attacks were "intended to hit the Israeli side and the Jordanian side as well."

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks, but Islamic extremists have long criticized Jordan's U.S.-allied government for its peace treaty with Israel and close ties with the West.

"We still don't know who is behind this act but I'm sure the Jordanians will do all they can to prevent such attacks in the future as in the past," Mofaz said, adding Israeli authorities are in contact with Jordanians over the incidents.

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