Thousands of Jordanians rallied in the capital and other cities shouting “Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!” a day after three deadly hotel bombings that killed at least 59 people.
Officials suspected Iraqi involvement in the attacks on the Hyatt, the Radisson SAS and the Days Inn, which were claimed by al-Qaida’s Iraq branch.
As protesters in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world yesterday denounced the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, security forces snared 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 al-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 II, a strong US ally, vowed in a nationally televised address to “pursue those criminals and those behind them, and we will get to them wherever they are".
Significantly, the victims included some 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 have supported the Iraqi insurgency, but Wednesday’s bombings could tip Arab sentiment against al-Zarqawi.
In the West Bank village of Silet al-Thaher, members of the Akhras family mourned 13 of their relatives killed during a wedding party at the Radisson.
“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 heard over and over throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Al-Qaida in Iraq, which appears to be expanding its operations outside of Iraq, said the bombings put the US 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, al-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 centres 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-Qaida in Iraq said in an Internet statement, the authenticity of which could not be immediately verified.
Al-Zarqawi’s group has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in Jordan, including the 2002 assassination of US 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 were identified as 33 Jordanians, many with families ties to the Palestinian West Bank; six Iraqis; two Bahrainis; at least two Chinese; one Indonesian; and one Saudi. The others had not yet 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.