From combined dispatches
AMMAN, Jordan — At least 200,000 persons demonstrated yesterday against the recent bombings of three luxury hotels, while a new online statement attributed to terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi defended the attacks and threatened to cut off the head of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
An anti-terrorist demonstration of such size is unprecedented in the Arab world, where Zarqawi, his mentor, Osama bin Laden, and their al Qaeda organization have attained folk-hero status among Muslim masses.
“Zarqawi, from Amman, we say to you: ‘You are a coward,’ ” protesters chanted while brandishing banners with the names of their tribes from every part of Jordan.
A similar protest in Jordan two days after the attacks on three hotels in the capital, which killed 59 persons, mustered several thousand people.
One attacker blew himself up at a wedding party in the ballroom of the Radisson SAS hotel. Seventeen relatives of the bride and groom died.
“More than 100,000 people took part in the demonstration which left the al-Husseini mosque and then moved towards Amman town hall,” security forces spokesman Bashir al-Daajeh told Agence France-Presse.
“Their number increased as the demonstrators were approaching the town hall and then reached 250,000,” he estimated.
The demonstrators marched along a mile and a half route before arriving at the town hall, where several asked the public to denounce “this savage terrorist crime” or to recite poems in praise of Jordan and the royal dynasty.
The civil groups that organized the protests said that no less than 200,000 people took part in the demonstration.
Also yesterday, a diatribe posted on an Islamic Web site and attributed to Zarqawi was full of Islamist bluster but unusually defensive about the hotel attacks.
It said of King Abdullah: “Your star is fading. You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off.”
Zarqawi told Jordanians to stay away from bases used by U.S. forces in Jordan, hotels and tourist sites in Amman, the Dead Sea and the southern resort of Aqaba and embassies of governments participating in the war in Iraq, saying they would be targeted.
He said that al Qaeda in Iraq is not targeting fellow Muslims, even though his group has taken responsibility for hundreds of attacks that have killed thousands of Muslims in Iraq.
The authenticity of the audio statement could not be confirmed, but the voice resembled that of Zarqawi in previous audio messages.
Even contributors to militant Web forums — who lionize Zarqawi and praise his attacks — have criticized the bombings, saying he should avoid civilians.
Zarqawi insisted that the attack on the wedding party at the Radisson SAS hotel was a “lie” and a “forgery” made up by Jordanian security officials.
The Radisson bomber struck a hall where Israeli intelligence officials were meeting at the time, Zarqawi said. But part of the roof fell in on the wedding hall, either from the blast or even — he said — from a separate bomb placed in the roof, though not by al Qaeda.
“We didn’t target them. Our target was halls being used by Zionist intelligence who were meeting there at the time,” he said. “Our brothers knew their targets with great precision.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev called Zarqawi’s claims “ludicrous.”
“This man has the blood of many innocents on his hands, most of them Muslims,” Mr. Regev said. “To claim that those innocent victims in Jordan were working for Israel is simply ludicrous and deserves ridicule.”