Terrorists Strike Hotels in Amman
Suicide bombers struck three tourist hotels in Amman, Jordan on Thursday, killing at least 67 persons and wounding nearly 200. Among the innocent victims was a wedding party. A Syrian film producer and his daughter may be dead, according to Al-Sharq al-Awsat.
This news hits me where I live. I was at a conference on Iraqi identity in Amman at a hotel just like these earlier this year. You could see how Amman had become the new Berlin. It was overflowing with half a million Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arab and well off. A lot of big political and economic deals are struck in those hotels among high-level Iraqi politicians. But it was also packed with Americans and other foreigners who were doing work in Iraq. Some of them wore civvies but had crew cuts and stood ramrod straight.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that a lot of Iraqi politicians stayed at the Grand Hyatt. The Radisson is mainly for rich tourists, including Israelis. The Days Inn is a 3-star, and is not famous except for its night club (“night clubs” in Amman are rather tame affairs).
Haaretz is now saying that the Israeli (probably actually Arab Israeli) tourists were not gotten out before, but rather after the attacks. I had written based on an earlier Haaretz report: [In one of those little mysteries that pops up so frequently in the Middle East, it transpires that Jordanian security operatives came to the Radisson earlier in the day and escorted Israeli tourists from the hotel. The Jordanian secret police are very good about penetrating these Islamist cells, and the logical conclusion is that they got wind of an attack specifically on Israelis, not realizing that the operatives intended to hit the hotels in general.]
An eyewitness wrote me recently:
“I was just in Amman for a week of meetings in the [XXX] Hotel. One night in the . . . restaurant, there was a large group at a table , at least 20 people, including Allawi, Ayham Samaraii, and other people who were said, by Iraqis with us, to be members of the Allawi group, including at least three parliamentarians. No non-Arabs seemed to be in the group. Two nights later, I saw [Abdul Aziz al-] Hakim come in dressed in his robes and turban with a group of men and go upstairs. His son was in the lobby the next day, and that night Hakim came in again and went upstairs. I don’t know if the two groups are meeting, but it was an intriguing gathering. Clearly, it is safer to have meeting, even if only of your own faction, in Amman than in Baghdad.”
Well, not any more.
King Abdullah II had to cut short a trip to Uzbekistan. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had to postpone a trip he had planned to the Jordanian capital.
Although at the moment we have no idea who exactly carried out the bombings or why, suspicion naturally falls on two main groups. One is al-Qaeda, the fighters loyal to Usamah Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Hitting tourist hotels in Jordan was part of the Millennium Plot, planned by Abu Zubayda, but that element of the plot was foiled by Jordanian security at the time.
The other possibility is that the guerrilla war in Iraq is now spilling over into Jordan. Although some of the Sunni jihadis in Iraq call themselves “al-Qaeda” on the internet, locally they are known as Monotheism and Holy War or just Salafis, and they are a different group than the Bin Laden al-Qaeda, with different aims. Some of them are Jordanians (the fabled Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is from Zarqa, a small city not far from Amman). Others are Iraqi Baathists or are run by them. Guerrillas have targeted Jordanians more than once, and blew up the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad at one point.
Either way, this is bad news.
Ironically, King Abdullah II tried to tell Dick Cheney in spring of 2002 that this sort of thing would happen. I wrote at the time, a year before the Iraq War:
In Jordan King Abdullah II was clearly extremely disturbed by the idea of a war. He knew it would throw the Jordanian economy again back down to the level of Chad, as happened in 1991, that it would bring angry crowds into the street (thousands already came out Saturday for demonstrations in Amman over Palestine), and that it had the potential if he stood with the US to provoke a second Jordanian Civil War. His reaction was almost apocalyptic. He said such a war could go (in Robin Wright of the LA Times’s report) ‘”completely awry” and even backfire, producing a civil war in Iraq that could involve neighboring countries–and even have a ripple effect in the United States and Europe.’ He added, “It’s the potential Armageddon of Iraq that worries all of us, and that’s where common sense would say, ‘Look, this is a tremendously dangerous road to go down.”
The story of the rescue of the Israeli tourists suggests one of the repercussions here. If the Iraq guerrilla war does spill over into Jordan, it won’t stop there. Bush, Cheney and the Neocons have managed to endanger Israeli security by destabilizing the Middle East, just as they have endangered us all.