Thursday, November 10, 2005

AMMAN, Jordan — Thousands of Jordanians rallied in the capital and other cities, shouting “Burn in hell, Abu Musab Zarqawi” a day after three deadly hotel bombings that killed at least 59 persons. Officials suspected Iraqi involvement in the attacks, which were claimed by al Qaeda’s Iraq branch.

Protesters in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world denounced the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi.

Jordanian security forces arrested a group of Iraqis for questioning, and officials said one of the bombers spoke Iraqi-accented Arabic before he exploded his suicide belt in the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

The main demonstration in Amman lasted for more than an hour. But honking vehicles, decorated with Jordanian flags and posters of King Abdullah II, cruised Amman’s streets until late in the night, as passengers chanted, “Death to Zarqawi, the villain and the traitor” and anti-terrorism slogans.

About 50 people, including Jordanian children holding tiny flags, placed candles on a makeshift sand memorial in the driveway of the Hyatt.

King Abdullah, a strong U.S. ally, vowed in a nationally televised address to “pursue those criminals and those behind them, and we will get to them wherever they are.”

The U.S. Embassy said that two American citizens were killed and that four were wounded in the bombings Wednesday evening at the Hyatt, the Radisson SAS and the Days Inn.

The victims included about two dozen Palestinians with roots in the West Bank. Among them were the West Bank’s intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Bashir Nafeh, a diplomat and a prominent banker.

Many Jordanians and Palestinians had supported the Iraqi insurgency before Wednesday’s bombings.

One of the nearly simultaneous blasts tore through a banquet hall at the Radisson, where 300 guests were celebrating the wedding of a Jordanian-Palestinian couple.

In the West Bank village of Silet al-Thaher, members of the Akhras family mourned 13 relatives killed during the wedding party.

“Oh my God, oh my God. Is it possible that Arabs are killing Arabs, Muslims killing Muslims? For what did they do that?” screamed 35-year-old Najah Akhras, who lost two nieces in the attack.

Similar thoughts were repeated throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which appears to be expanding its operations outside of Iraq, said the bombings put the United States on notice that the “backyard camp for the Crusader army is now in the range of fire of the holy warriors.”

But later yesterday, in an apparent response to the protests, Zarqawi’s group took the rare step of trying “to explain for Muslims part of the reason the holy warriors targeted these dens.”

“Let all know that we have struck only after becoming confident that they are centers for launching war on Islam and supporting the Crusaders’ presence in Iraq and the Arab peninsula and the presence of the Jews on the land of Palestine,” al Qaeda in Iraq said in an Internet statement, the authenticity of which could not be verified.

Zarqawi’s group has taken responsibility for previous attacks in Jordan, including the 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley. Jordan, a moderate Arab nation, has fought a long-running battle against Islamic extremists opposed to its 1994 peace deal with Israel.

The dead included 33 Jordanians, many with families ties to the Palestinian West Bank; six Iraqis; two Bahrainis; at least two Chinese; one Indonesian; one Saudi; and the two Americans. The others had not been identified. Officials said the death toll of 59 — which includes the three attackers — could rise because several of the 100 or so wounded victims were seriously hurt.

President Bush said that the attackers defiled Islam and that the United States would help bring those responsible to justice.

“The killings should remind all of us that there is an enemy in this world that is willing to kill innocent people, willing to bomb a wedding celebration in order to advance their cause,” Mr. Bush said during a meeting with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani condemned the Amman attacks and said they put Jordan on notice against harboring militants.

“Unfortunately, there are still some groups in Jordan supporting terrorist criminals, describing them as the resistance, and they are deceived by their claims,” Mr. Talabani said in Rome.

Two daughters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein live in Jordan, as do many other wealthy and formerly powerful Iraqis.

“I hope that these attacks will wake up the ‘Jordanian street’ to end their sympathy with Saddam’s remnants … who exploit the freedom in this country to have a safe shelter to plot their criminal acts against Iraqis,” Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said.

He also said Iraqis may have had a hand in the attacks.

“The al Qaeda organization has become a plague that affected Iraq and is now transmitted by the same rats to other countries. A lot of Iraqis, especially former intelligence and army officers, joined this criminal cell,” Mr. Kubba said.

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