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The Iraqi role in Jordan bombing

A would-be female suicide bomber from Iraq confessed to her role in the hotel attacks.

By , Sheila M. Dabu / November 14, 2005


Wearing a black robe and her defused bomb-belt tied around her waist, Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi confessed Sunday on Jordanian TV to trying to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman last week.

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Mrs. Rishawi's detonator failed, and she fled after her husband and two other Iraqis - all from the terrorist group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - succeeded in killing at least 57 people by bombing three hotels in Jordan last Wednesday evening.

The bombings are the strongest evidence yet that Iraq is no longer simply a magnet for international jihadis. Like Afghanistan under the Taliban, say counterterrorism experts, Iraq has become a base from which Al Qaeda can plan and launch attacks against its designated enemies, shifting both operatives and weapons into neighboring regimes its leaders hate as much as the US.

The unusual airing of her confession appears to be part of a vigorous Jordanian government campaign to rally average citizens against Islamist terrorism and hopefully prevent repeats of the country's worst-ever terrorist attack. The country's monarch, King Abdullah, is a close US ally and national anger at the US invasion of Iraq has been almost universal.

Mr. Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombings on Thursday. Attacks on two other hotels - the Grand Hyatt and the Days Inn - wounded up to 100. The other bombers were identified as Safar Mohammad Ali and Rawad Jassim Mohammed Abed.

The Jordan-born Zarqawi has sought to rally global Muslim opinion to his side, but in Wednesday's choice of targets he appears to have miscalculated badly. The overwhelming majority of victims were Muslims, either native Jordanians or Palestinians.

Anti-Zarqawi demonstrations have been held in Jordan every day since the attack. "This is not the Jordanian custom and this is not the Islamic custom,'' says Jalileh Kareem, standing with her daughter and her sister amid a 1,000-person rally on the outskirts of Amman. "They are not human beings. They are animals."

Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher told reporters Sunday that the three attackers were Iraqi nationals from Anbar Province, an Islamist militant stronghold that shares a border with Jordan. He said Mrs. Rishawi's brother was a key Zarqawi lieutenant killed by American troops in Fallujah, and that the four crossed by car into Jordan on Nov. 4.

Though female suicide bombers are not unheard of, they are very rare, and Rishawi's presence in the car probably eased their passage across the frontier, since she didn't fit the usual insurgent profile.

The Jordanians "run a very, very tight ship in terms of security so they have been able to foil a number of attacks," says Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif. "But particularly with the war in Iraq, there will be more spillover."

Though the attack in Jordan was the first major operation for Iraq-based jihadis, it was presaged by minor incidents in other countries and growing concern on the part of regional officials. In June, Kuwait caught militants trying to smuggle explosives into the country from Iraq; Germany last year arrested members of Ansar al-Sunna, which operates out of Kurdish Iraq; and in Syria, two shootouts in the past six months have involved militants with Iraqi ties.