|SUICIDE bombers struck at three luxury hotels in Amman yesterday, killing at least 57 people in attacks that bore all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda strike on one of Washington's closest allies in the Middle East.
The Jordanian capital was thrown into panic by co- ordinated blasts at the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels, all popular with Western visitors, businessmen and security contractors on their way to neighbouring Iraq.
Marwan Muasher, Jordan's Deputy Prime Minister, said that most victims were Jordanians attending a wedding at the Radisson Hotel. A further 117 were injured.
Mr Muasher announced that Jordan was closing all its land borders in the wake of the largest attack on its soil. He said that two suicide bombers, with explosives strapped to their bodies, struck at the Radisson and Grand Hyatt hotels.
The third attack was apparently a car bomb. Mr Muasher said that a car bearing green tourist licence plates and laden with bombs tried to ram into the Days Inn but was thwarted by concrete bollards. Witnesses said that they saw dead bodies in the street — including three Asian men believed to be members of an official delegation.
"Anybody who walks into a wedding hall and blows himself up is not serving Jordan," Mr Muasher said. "Jordan is a safe country and its security has safeguarded it. This is a despicable act of terrorism and an act of cowardice."
The bride, Nadia al-Alami, and the groom, Ashraf Mohammad al-Akhras, were wounded, and their fathers killed in the blast. "I lost my father and my father-in-law and I saw many other dead," Mr al-Akhras said. "This is a horrible crime."
"We thought it was fireworks for the wedding, but I saw people falling to the ground," said Ahmed, one of the 300 guests. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly."
Caroline Hawley, the BBC's Baghdad correspondent, who was in the Hyatt while on holiday from Iraq, said that she heard a huge blast. "I saw flashes of orange and glass shattered and then absolute panic with people fleeing out of the hotel," she said. "It seemed an awful long time before the ambulances arrived.
"Hotel staff were putting people into taxis or private cars, they were simply worried that they wouldn't live unless they got them to the hospital quickly," she added.
The British Embassy in Amman said that there were no reports of British casualties.
"It was a miracle that we made it out without a scratch," said one British guest at the Hyatt, which was the scene of a failed incendiary bomb three years ago.
A group of 15 Iraqi doctors were having dinner at the hotel when the bomb exploded. "At first we thought we were back in Iraq," one said.
The Radisson, close to the Israeli Embassy and frequently used by Israeli staff and security officials, has also been targeted in the past in plots thwarted by Jordan's security services.
King Abdullah II of Jordan immediately condemned the blasts and pledged that "justice will pursue the criminals".
Police sealed off the approach roads to all the hotels, in the affluent Jebel Amman area. There were also reports of arrests, including Syrians.
Until last night Jordan had been spared violence spilling over from neighbouring Iraq. It has long feared that the bloodshed might spur a cross-border jihad as young Arab volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, North Africa and Jordan itself have become radicalised by the conflict on its eastern border.
Suspicion immediately focused last night on Abu Mu-sab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who comes from the impoverisged town of Zarqa, near Amman.
There is widespread opposition to King Abdullah's support for the US-led invasion of Iraq, exacerbating existing tensions among the huge Palestinian population over Jordan's peace treaty with Israel.
Suicide bombers hit hotels in Jordan's capital
By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
At least 57 people were killed and more than 300 injured last night when al-Qa'eda suicide bombers attacked three hotels in Amman in a devastating attack on the Jordanian capital.
The carefully co-ordinated blasts, which came within minutes of each other shortly before 9pm, represented the first major terrorist strikes on the West's key ally in the Middle East.
At least two of the attacks were the work of suicide bombers, who targeted international hotels popular with Western and Israeli tourists and businessmen.
Most of the victims were said to be Jordanians, but Americans were believed to be among the dead.
The first explosion ripped through the lobby and bar of the Grand Hyatt hotel, cutting through staff and guests alike. It killed seven people instantly.
Within minutes an explosive device said to be hidden in a false ceiling at the SAS Radisson hotel blew up, showering shrapnel down on to 300 guests and staff at a wedding reception in a large banqueting hall.
"We thought it was fireworks for the wedding but I saw people falling to the ground," said Ahmed, a wedding guest. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly."
The Radisson is popular with Israeli tourists and has been a target of several foiled al-Qa'eda plots in the past, including a conspiracy to attack tourists during the kingdom's Millennium celebrations.
The third attack was at the Days Inn hotel. An employee there said the explosion shattered windows, but he was unaware of any casualties.
Amid conflicting accounts by police, there was also a suggestion that a car bomb might have been driven into one of the hotels.
As police and ambulances rushed to help the hundreds of injured people, security cordons were erected around embassies and streets were sealed off around the city's other hotels. Units of special forces soldiers carried out search operations.
The stone entrance of the Grand Hyatt was completely shattered. A unnamed British guest at the hotel said: "It was a miracle that we made it out without a scratch."
An American businessman was less fortunate. "Several of my friends have died. The people who carried this out were cowards," he said, refusing to give his name.
Local officials suggested the attack was the work of al-Qa'eda. Jordan is the homeland of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa'eda in Iraq, who was sentenced to death in absentia for the murder of an American diplomat in Amman in 2002.
He has threatened to expand his operations outside of Iraq and in August rockets were fired at a navy ship at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba.
Despite signing a peace treaty with Israel, which earned it severe criticism from some of the Islamic world's more radical elements, Jordan had escaped the violence seen across the Middle East.
Ayman al-Safadi, the editor of Al-Ghad, said: "Finally, the terrorists succeeded in breaking the security in Jordan."
King Abdullah last night cut short an official visit to Kazakhstan to return to Amman. He blamed a "deviant and misled group" for the attacks.
"The hand of justice will get to the criminals who targeted innocent secure civilians with their cowardly acts," he said.
The bombings will be the most serious test yet of King Adbullah's rule as he strives to catch the plotters without fuelling support for Islamic extremism in his country.
Co-ordinated attacks kill more than 50 at Jordan hotels
Last Updated Wed, 09 Nov 2005 20:16:16 ESTCBC News
At least 57 people have died and more than 115 have been injured in explosions at three major hotels in Amman, Jordan.
The country's deputy prime minister confirmed the numbers. Marwan Muasher said in a CNN interview that one suicide bomber blew himself up at a wedding party.
|Jordanian civilians and policemen helps an injured man in front of the Grand Hyatt hotel hotel in Amman after three explosions rocked three hotels in Jordan's capital late Wednesday, Nov 9. (AP Photo/Nader Daoud) |
"We have been putting security measures at hotels for some time now. We have been expecting terrorist attacks for some time," said Muasher, who said he had no information on who may have been responsible for the attacks. Muasher said most of the victims were Jordanian.
An explosion ripped through the banquet hall of the Radisson Hotel where 300 people were attending a wedding reception.
"We thought it was fireworks," said Ahmed, a wedding guest. "[Then] I saw people falling to the ground. I saw blood ... it was ugly."
Muasher said the largest number of casualties occurred at the Radisson, which sustained the biggest blast.
The Grand Hyatt, the nearby Radisson SAS Hotel and the Days Inn three kilometres away were hit in succession. The hotels have been evacuated. The explosions occurred just before 9 p.m. local time.
The deputy prime minister said a car bearing explosives tried to ram into the Days Inn but exploded at a barrier in front of the hotel.
Grand Hyatt officials released a statement confirming an explosion occurred in the hotel's lobby but that it couldn't verify the number of dead.
The Associated Press quotes a police official who says the attacks "carry the trademark of al-Qaeda."
International reaction to the attacks
Jordan's King Abdullah has condemned the attacks and announced all government offices and schools will be closed Thursday. Jordan's borders have also been sealed off.
The White House has released a statement from U.S. President George W. Bush.
"We will offer every possible form of cooperation in investigating these attacks and assisting in efforts to bring these terrorists to justice," said the statement.
|The main entrance of Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman. (AP Photo/Nader Daoud) |
New York city police say they are deploying critical response teams around hotels in the city, not because of any specific intelligence but as a reaction to the explosions in Jordan.
In a release, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said: "I extend my deepest condolences to the victims and the families."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on a tour of the Middle East, has cancelled his visit to Amman on Thursday.
CNN interviewed a witness who reported the car of Jordan's prime minister, Adnan Badran, could be seen in front of the Grand Hyatt.
The Radisson and Hyatt hotels were on the list of targets in a millennium bomb plot. U.S. officials believe it was hatched by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq – and Osama bin Laden's operations chief Abu Zubaydah. The plot was foiled by Jordanian authorities.
Abu Zubaydah was captured in March in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in a raid by the CIA, FBI and Pakistani authorities. Al-Zarqawi remains at large.
Married Couple Among Amman Bombers
al-Qaida in Iraq Says Jordan Attacks Were Carried Out by Four Iraqis, Including Husband and Wife
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Web statement Friday in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq claimed the deadly hotel bombings in Jordan were carried out by four Iraqis, including a man and his wife.
"All of these are Iraqis from the land between the two rivers," the statement said, alluding to Iraq's ancient name, Mesopotamia. "They vowed to die and they chose the shortest route to receive the blessings of God."
The statement could not be authenticated, but it appeared on a site which has included past al-Qaida statements and was signed in the name of the group's spokesman, Abu Maysara al-Iraqi.