Jordan foils Al Qaeda plot to attack US
Eleven men with ties to Al Qaeda are arrested in an alleged plan to target US and Israeli Embassies.
For the second time in two years, Jordanian officials say they have halted an Islamist plot against the United States. The arrest of 11 suspected militants who are said to have Al Qaeda ties may have short-circuited plans to attack a variety of US and Israeli targets in the area.Skip to next paragraph
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The arrests were confirmed to the Monitor by the state prosecutor, Mahmoud Obeidat, who says the men are accused of "conspiring to carry out terrorist actions against US and foreign targets in Jordan, and possessing automatic weapons and explosives for illegal use."
Arab countries including Yemen, Tunisia, and Morocco have all recently arrested Arab fighters fleeing Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime. Diplomatic observers say the Jordanian arrests are part of a clear pattern: Arab veterans of the Afghan conflict are returning to their homelands to work with small, loosely coordinated groups dedicated to promoting a strict version of Islam through violent action.
Militants like these have made lawyer Mohammed Duwaik a prosperous man. With evident pride, he flips through a scrapbook of legal reports about his clients, including Al Qaeda conspirators and stabbers of suspected Israeli spies.
"It's a duty to defend these boys," says Mr. Duwaik.
"Why doesn't America understand that its policies are just breeding more and more violence?"
His latest case, he says, is that of the recently arrested 11 suspects. The men are said to be led by Emir Wail al Shalabi, a Palestinian-Jordanian fighter from the Arab camps in Afghanistan.
According to Duwaik, Mr. Wail was arrested this April after fleeing the Taliban fortress of Tora Bora during America's bombing, and his 10 acolytes were detained in raids on their homes two weeks ago.
US diplomats in Amman were unavailable for comment. But informed sources said four of the men were understood to be planning attacks on the American and Israeli Embassies, and on leisure centers believed to be frequented by Americans recuperating during military exercises in the kingdom. A second six-man cell, says Duwaik, was supposedly planning to hit unnamed Israeli targets across the Jordanian border in the West Bank. He says the men are accused of belonging to a hitherto unknown group known as Al Ashara, or "The 10," and are now being held in Al-Juwaydah Prison, south of Amman.
Jordanian officials are understood to have shunned going public with the case up until now for fear the news could further damage a tourism industry battered by the 20-month old Palestinian intifada, as well as fears it could spark an outcry in a country where the US "war on terror" is widely perceived as a means to extend US and Israeli power in the region.
But analysts say some officials are pressing for Jordan to follow the example of Morocco, which recently unveiled an Al Qaeda catch, to save Jordan from sacrificing its status as Washington's closest ally in the Arab world.
Jordan was the only Arab state to send peacekeepers to Kabul, and it conducts frequent military exercises with the US. A third of its $450 million US aid budget goes to military aid. But on Saturday, the Jordanian Foreign Minister denied reports in a Lebanese newspaper, Al Safir, that 2,000 US troops were based in Jordan to prepare for an attack on Iraq.