Says Amman hotels were used by Israeli, US agents; threatens to behead king.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFFAl Qaida terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is insisting he did not deliberately target a wedding party in a triple bombing that left 59 Jordanian civilians dead, and is appealing to Muslims to believe that he was not attacking them.
Al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, took an unusually defensive tone in an audiotape posted Friday on the Internet, seeking to shore up support after widespread anger over the civilian deaths, even among sympathizers.
Al-Zarqawi claimed the bomber struck a hall where Israeli and American intelligence officials were meeting at the time. Part of the roof fell in on the wedding hall, either from the blast or even, he said, from a separate bomb placed in the roof, though not by al-Qaida.
"Our brothers knew their targets with great precision," he said. "God knows we chose these hotels only after more than two months of close observation (that proved) that these hotels had become headquarters for the Israeli and American intelligence," he said.
Al-Zarqawi accused the Jordanian government of hiding casualties among Israeli and American agents.
Bassam al-Bana, the spokesman for the Radisson, denied al-Zarqawi's claims about an intelligence meeting. "There were no meetings of Israelis there," he told The Associated Press.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev refused to comment when asked whether Israeli intelligence officers were meeting at the hotel. "This man has the blood of many innocents on his hands, most of them Muslims. To claim that those innocent victims in Jordan were working for Israel is simply ludicrous and deserves ridicule," he said.
Still, the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi made clear he was not about to stop the bloodshed, warning he will attack more tourist sites in Jordan while threatening to behead King Abdullah II. He said he was targeting Jordan because it is serving as a "protector" for Israel, helps the US military in Iraq and has become a "swamp of obscenity," with alcohol and prostitution in its tourist sites.
"Your star is fading. You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off," al-Zarqawi said, referring to the king.
Al-Zarqawi, who has a $25 million (â‚¬21.41 million) bounty on his head from the US, told Jordanians to stay away from bases used by US forces, hotels and tourist sites in Amman, the Dead Sea and the southern resort of Aqaba and embassies of governments participating in the war in Iraq, saying they would be targeted.
"People of Islam in Jordan, we want to assure you that we are extremely careful over your lives ...you are more beloved to us than ourselves," he said.
In the past, al-Zarqawi has defended Muslim civilian casualties in attacks by his suicide bombers in Iraq, saying they were justified because the attacks are part of a "jihad" against US occupiers and their Iraqi allies. "God ordered us to attack the infidels by all means ... even if armed infidels and unintended victims, women and children, are killed together," he said in an audiotape released in May.
But he sounded more penitent in Friday's audio.
"People of Jordan, we did not undertake to blow up any wedding parties," he said. "For those Muslims who were killed, we ask God to show them mercy, for they were not targets. We did not and will not think for one moment to target them even if they were people of immorality and debauchery."
But al-Zarqawi insisted that Jordanian officials' accounts that the bomber specifically targeted the wedding were a "lie."