Al-Qaida masterminds who planned the triple bombing that rocked three Amman hotels probably may never have expected another impact the attack has had: a direct hit on support for the organization among Jordanians, who previously largely supported Osama bin-Laden's group.
"These attacks have caused a significant change in Jordanian public opinion," Fares Braizat, head of the public opinion polling unit of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan told The Jerusalem Post. "Most people now have a very unfavorable view of al-Qaida."
Despite their government's close ties with Washington, a peace agreement with Israel and King Abdullah's public denunciation of the terror and militant Islam, more than 60 percent of Jordanians viewed al-Qaida as a legitimate resistance group, according to Braizat.
That has now changed. Braizat walked around Amman for hours after the bombing, attending demonstrations at which people put candles near hotel entrances. He called acquaintances he knew had supported al-Qaida, and found that nine out of 10 Jordanians who previously supported the group now call its members "terrorists." Indeed, the Amman attacks are causing Jordanians to sympathize more with the victims than with the "noble" goal of the attackers.
Imad Hmoud, a media consultant and former editor of the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, said that attacks on Amman will cause Jordanians to "differentiate between resistance and terrorism." But it hasn't always been so. The US invasion of Iraq and its loyal support for Israel throughout the intifada has made the Americans increasingly unpopular among Jordanians. The majority don't like America, can't stand Israel, and support the acts of "resistance" in Iraq.
Recently some Jordanians were found guilty of trying to enter Iraq with the purpose of fighting friendly forces, i.e., US soldiers and Iraqi security forces. It's likely few Jordanians found that a legitimate offense.
That's where the gray area begins. What is legitimate resistance to an occupying force, and what is terrorism? Until now, many Jordanians viewed the Iraqi casualties from Baghdad explosions as a necessary cost to oust the US from the midst of their Arab brethren, a Jordanian journalist told the Post. Jordanian newspapers downplayed the Iraqi deaths and headlined the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq because that's what their readers wanted to read.
No more. As the story spread of the suicide bomber who stood on a chair to increase the number of casualties at a Jordanian couple's wedding party, Jordanians cried out against terrorism which, if it had happened in some other country, may have been considered "resistance." Thursday, a day after the bombing, Islamists, Arab nationalists, Baathists and members of the professional unions - all of whom strongly oppose the government and support armed resistance - demonstrated in the streets of Amman, carrying pictures of the king and calling for the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, linked to al-Qaida.
One Jordanian businessman who participated in the march said the bombings changed the attitudes of the oppositionists. "This is not resistance," he said by phone from Amman, "this is terrorism." As terror hit Jordan in a major way for the first time, Jordanians found that al-Qaida is not such a great group after all, even if they claim they are fighting for the freedom of Iraq.
"Nobody in Jordan accepts this," said the businessman. "The Islamists, the left-wing parties, and the right-wing parties have all opposed the attacks and united under the flag. We are one hand now."