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After attacks, Jordan faces its vulnerability

Hotel bombings put nation on edge

AMMAN, Jordan -- At sunset yesterday, Salah M. Abu-Osbeh buried his cousin, and with him his sense of Jordan's immunity from the chaos next door in Iraq.

The cousin was among 16 relatives killed when a bomber blew himself up in the midst of a wedding party at the Radisson SAS Hotel on Wednesday, in one of three hotel attacks that killed at least 59 people, including two Americans.

Authorities said 115 had been wounded.

''Each and every Jordanian will become a policeman now," Osbeh said, after an imam read prayers over shrouded bodies as they were delivered from the morgue and lowered into the ground.

The explosions, Osbeh said, seemed to announce that Jordan's days as an insulated oasis might be coming to an end as Iraq's violence seemed to barge in on a kingdom that has so far preserved a fragile state of calm. The attacks also appeared to have awakened Jordanian anger toward hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have resettled in Jordan.

''We have 1 million Iraqis here," Osbeh said, perhaps exaggerating the size of the Iraqi exile community in Jordan. ''They come here and destroy our country. This will stop. This will not happen again."

A day after the bombings, the shock waves were just beginning to shudder through Jordan, one of the staunchest American allies in the region.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is said to be led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility in a posting on an Islamic website, as it has for attacks carried out in Iraq since the US invasion there in March 2003.

Jordan's King Abdullah II vowed to track down those responsible. Abdullah has walked a delicate line since the US invasion. He has contained strongly anti-American public sentiment while supporting US policy and cracking down on Islamic extremists.

Since early 2003, the king has allowed Jordan to serve as an unofficial launching pad for US occupation forces in Iraq, and for American contractors. US-backed Iraqi leaders often conduct politics at Amman's hotels, since Baghdad is so dangerous.

The influx of Iraqi residents has also dramatically driven up real estate prices, a source of complaints around Amman and an irritant that vexes even Jordanians who are otherwise pro-American.

For its part, the new Iraqi government has accused Amman of allowing insurgents and terrorists to cross the border into Iraq -- an assertion Jordan strongly disputes.

Al Qaeda in Iraq said it carried out the attack because of Jordan's support for the United States and Israel, ''After studying and watching the targets, places were chosen to carry out an attack on some hotels that the tyrant of Jordan has made the backyard garden for the enemy of religion: Jews and crusaders," the statement said.

Jordanian officials did not respond directly to the assertion, saying they were hunting for the perpetrators. Officials say they have foiled many alleged Al Qaeda or Zarqawi plots in the past two years, and a court has sentenced Zarqawi to death in the slaying of a US diplomat, Laurence Foley, in Amman in October 2002.

Jordanians took to the streets to protest the attacks.

''We expected something would happen, but not something as huge as this," said Nuha Jazrawi, a 30-year-old investment adviser who wore a cross prominently outside her shirt, a testament to Jordan's generally tolerant attitude toward non-Muslims.

Jazrawi joined thousands of Jordanians in antiterrorist demonstrations yesterday, chanting support for King Abdullah and rage against terrorists whose acts might cripple Jordan's tourist economy.

The government encouraged the demonstrators, who were asked in cellphone text messages to take to the streets and ''raise the flag high against terrorism."

The attacks particularly shook members of Jordan's elite, who are largely secular, and who gather frequently for celebrations in the capital city's ornate hotels.

The deadliest attack, at the Radisson, struck a wedding party of two notable Jordanian Palestinians. The bomb at the Grand Hyatt struck a second wedding party. A Days Inn also was attacked.

''They want to send the message that we are not secure, that terrorists can do whatever they want, even in the middle of Amman," Jazrawi said.

Jordanian and foreign analysts said that the country's security and police apparatus might have curtailed free speech, but they also said that until this week the country had stemmed terrorist attacks.

For Adnan Abu Odeh, Jordan's former ambassador to the United Nations, the prospects for terrorism in Amman increased the moment the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.

''Of course it's linked to the disorder in Iraq, and the state of uncertainty people in this region have dealt with ever since the Americans arrived," Abu Odeh said. ''Jordan has been a target for years, but until now, was able to dodge the bullet."

Echoing the anxiety of many Jordanians protesting on the streets of Amman and other cities, Abu Odeh said the attacks could devastate the economy.

''Jordan has come out ahead because we alone among the nations in this region have been able to use our safety and stability as our major selling points," he said.

The lack of visible dissent in Jordan lulled many into ignoring the kingdom's vulnerability, said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent and resolving conflicts.

''Jordanian security has been incredibly good at tracking domestic terror," Hiltermann said.

''But what we're seeing here are coordinated attacks carried out probably by people who are not Jordanian, although they may have had help from inside."

Still, Hiltermann said that Zarqawi may have overplayed his hand in Amman by killing so many Jordanians, and that he could end up triggering support for King Abdullah rather than destabilizing the regime. ''If mostly foreigners had been killed, it could well have increased Al Qaeda's popularity," Hiltermann said.

At least two Americans were killed and four were wounded, the State Department reported.

One of the bombers spoke with an Iraqi accent, a leading Jordanian security official said. The middle-aged man was stopped by suspicious security staff at the Grand Hyatt before detonating explosives that he had hidden under his suit, the official said.

Authorities reported arresting a number of Iraqis as security forces scrambled to capture anyone behind the attacks before they could flee the country. Police set up roadblocks, tightened security at hotels and borders, and analyzed DNA samples to try to identify the three suicide attackers killed in the bombings.

''We will pursue those criminals and those who are behind them, and we will reach them wherever they are," Abdullah said in a televised address. ''We will pull them from their holes and bring them to justice."

At Sahab cemetery, just past an industrial complex on the southern edge of Amman, Ashraf Daas al-Khalid's family crammed into cars for the journey to the funeral tent, where for three days they would offer coffee to mourners for his 16 murdered relatives.

Daas was about to celebrate his marriage to Nadia Al-Alami when the suicide bomber blew himself up in the reception hall, killing the drummer whose beats announced the wedding party's arrival. Now, rather than celebrating a honeymoon, Daas and Alami are grieving the two dozen relatives they lost between them.

''This is destiny," Daas said. ''We were planning a nice party. We have to ask them: 'Why they are killing innocent people?' "

A few feet away, the imam wept over the graves, his voice breaking into sobs with each sentence.

''You have to really work hard to do good things in your life, not like these terrorists did," he said. ''You only have one life."

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