- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

LONDON — A pollster who tracks public opinion in Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East says that the terrorist bombings in Jordan could trigger a sea change in attitudes throughout the Arab world toward al Qaeda.

“Things feel completely different when it happens in your own back yard,” said Fares Braizat, a political scientist who coordinates the opinion polling unit of the Jordanian Center for Strategic Studies.

“Even people I spoke to a few months ago who sympathized with al Qaeda have shown a very different attitude now,” Mr. Braizat said in television program broadcast across the Arab world.

A survey by Mr. Braizat’s group published before Wednesday’s bombings killed at least 59 persons at three Western-owned hotels in Amman showed that two-thirds of Jordanians viewed al Qaeda as a “legitimate resistance” group.

In its survey, published in February, the Jordanian Center for Strategic Studies found that only 11 percent of Jordanians polled viewed al Qaeda as a terrorist organization.

Similar attitudes were present in neighboring countries such as Egypt and Syria.

Anger against al Qaeda’s Iraq chapter, and its Jordanian-born leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, surfaced on the streets of Amman and other cities yesterday, with demonstrators telling Zarqawi to “burn in hell.”

Arab governments were quick to condemn the attacks.

Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, said, “these cowardly crimes will only increase Jordan’s steadfast stand in the face of terrorism.”

King Mohammed VI of Morocco said the “barbaric acts” are “forbidden by our Islamic religion and rejected by all revealed religions and universal values that advocate peace, fraternity and tolerance.”

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a telegram to Jordan’s King Abdullah II “stressing that Egypt is standing by Jordan … in these difficult times and in the face of terrorism and its perils.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the blasts as a “crime against humanity and Arab security.”

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said the Lebanese people “support the Jordanian people in their ordeal and ask God to give you the strength to face the challenges with which Jordan is confronted.”

In Washington, a senior Iraqi official warned that Zarqawi is likely to continue attacking targets outside Iraq.

“We think because of the achievements in Iraq, we will see more shifting of terrorism from Iraq to neighboring countries,” First Deputy President Adil Abdul Mahdi said.

“Jordan is only an example of what we in Iraq thought would happen,” he told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Mahdi, whose brother Ghalib Abdul Mahdi was gunned down by terrorists in Baghdad two weeks ago, added that the terrorism Iraqis face on a daily basis was not local. “It is regional,” he said.

Counterterrorism analyst Alexis Debat, a former official with the French Ministry of Defense, agreed that Zarqawi was expanding his battlefield.

Zarqawi is a Jordanian who trained in Afghanistan in 1999 and, with the backing of al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, has helped build a volunteer terrorist force in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, Mr. Debat said.

“This is a very thorough, complex, urban terrorist organization with complex counterintelligence operations,” he said. “Zarqawi’s objective is to be the leader of a global insurgency that would energize the Muslim masses.”

Sharon Behn contributed to this report in Washington.

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