Bombers hit three hotels in Jordan's capital

Thursday, November 10, 2005

AMMAN, Jordan -- Suicide bombers carried out nearly simultaneous attacks on three U.S.-based hotels in the Jordanian capital Wednesday night, killing at least 57 people and wounding 115 in what appeared to be an al-Qaida assault on an Arab kingdom with close ties to the United States.

Jordan's deputy prime minister, Marwan Muasher, said nobody claimed responsibility but that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, was a "prime suspect."

The first blast was reported at about 8:50 p.m. at the luxury Grand Hyatt hotel, popular with tourists and diplomats, and completely shattered its stone entrance.

An Associated Press reporter counted seven bodies being taken away and many more wounded being carried out on stretchers. Prime Minister Adnan Badran later arrived at the scene.

Not part of the celebration

A few minutes later, police reported an explosion at the Radisson SAS Hotel a short distance away. Police said five people were killed and at least 20 were wounded in the blast at a wedding hall where at least 300 people were celebrating.

The hotel is popular with American and Israeli tourists and was the target of a plot in 2000. Israel's ambassador to Jordan, Yaakov Hadas, told Israel TV from Amman there were no reports of Israeli casualties.

"We thought it was fireworks for the wedding but I saw peo ple falling to the ground," said Ahmed, a wedding guest who did not give his surname. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly."

A third explosion was reported at the Days Inn Hotel, and police said there were casualties.

At the Grand Hyatt, an American businessman said the explosion occurred in the lobby of the five-star hotel. Witnesses saw smoke rising from the building.

The Grand Hyatt Amman has 316 guest rooms and 50 luxury residential apartments in the adjoining Hyatt Tower. The hotel, with a beige-and-cream facade and a shiny gold revolving door, is in the heart of Amman's business and diplomatic district on Hussein Bin Ali Street.

The five-star Radisson SAS Hotel has 260 guest rooms. Its main entrance is covered by a white portico with several dozen international flags lining the top.

Security in place

The three hotels have security guards hired from a private Jordanian firm stationed in the reception areas. Each of the hotels has one or two police cars guarding the buildings around the clock.

Amman has become a base for Westerners who fly in and out of Iraq for work. The city's main luxury hotels downtown are often full of American and British officials and contractors enjoying the relative quiet of the Jordanian capital.

The hotels also have become a gathering spot for affluent Iraqis who have fled their country's violence. Their presence -- and money -- has caused an economic boom, with high-priced prostitution also putting in an appearance.

King Abdullah II cut short his official visit to Kazakhstan and was returning home immediately.

Jordan, a close U.S. ally, has arrested scores of Islamic militants for plotting to carry out attacks in the moderate Arab kingdom. It has also sentenced numerous militants to death in absentia, including the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In July, prosecutors indicted five Jordanians in an alleged conspiracy to attack intelligence agents, tourists and hotels in Amman. Al-Zarqawi has not been linked to the alleged plot.

U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi and bin Laden operations chief Abu Zubaydah were chief organizers of a foiled plot to bomb the Radisson SAS.

The attack was to take place during millennium celebrations, but Jordanian authorities stopped it in late 1999. Abu Zubaydah was captured in March 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in a raid by the CIA, FBI and Pakistani authorities. Al-Zarqawi remains at large.

In August, Iraq's al-Qaida wing claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that barely missed U.S. warships docked in the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

The Internet statement was signed Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the spokesman for Al-Qaida in Iraq. That group is headed by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who's been blamed for a rash of kidnappings, killings and attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Jordanian officials have said the rocket assault carried the hallmarks of al-Qaida, although the attack also was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

In the Aqaba attack, the most serious against the U.S. Navy since the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, one Katyusha rocket flew across the bow of a U.S. amphibious assault ship and crashed into a warehouse, killing a Jordanian soldier. Another missile landed near a Jordanian hospital, and a third hit a taxi on the outskirts of an Israeli airport, but did not explode.

The last major terror attack blamed on Islamic militants was the July 7 bombings of the London transit system that killed 56 people, including four bombers. The most recent major attack linked to al-Qaida was the Madrid subway bombings that killed 191 people on March 11, 2004.

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