Israeli Arab killed in Amman blasts

Arab resident of east J'lem, 2 senior PA officials also among 56 dead.

Jordan blast 298.88 (photo credit: CNN)
Jordan blast 298.88
(photo credit: CNN)
An Israeli businessman is among the 56 people who were killed in the triple suicide bombing that rocked the Jordanian capital of Amman on Wednesday night, an Israeli diplomat revealed on Thursday morning. The fatality was identified as Hussam Fathi Mahajna, 40, from Umm el-Fahem. An Arab resident of east Jerusalem was also killed in the attack, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday afternoon. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a letter to King Abdullah expressing his condolences. Israeli-Jordanian border crossings reopened on Thursday morning after they were shut down following the blasts. Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings, according to a message posted on the Internet on Thursday. "A group of lions of al-Qaida ... launched a new attack on some of the dens in the land of the Muslims in Amman," the Web posting said. It claimed that despite security measures, "some al-Qaida soldiers were able to reach their targets and carry out their duties." The statement was signed in the name of the spokesman for al-Qaida in Iraq, a group which is led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In addition, two senior PA officials were killed in the blasts. They were identified as Bashir Nafa, head of military intelligence in the West Bank and Abed Alun, Director of the Palestinian Interior Ministry. Terrorists succeeded in hitting Jordan's capital for the first time, as three nearly simultaneous explosions rocked three Western hotel chains in Amman. "There were three terrorist attacks on the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels and it is believed that the blasts were suicide bombings," police spokesman Maj. Bashir al-Da'aja told The Associated Press. He declined to elaborate. Another police official said the attacks were simultaneous and hit minutes before 9 p.m. in two districts, including the commercial area of Jebel Amman and al-Rabiyeh, which houses the Israeli Embassy. Jamal Nasrallah, a Jordanian photographer on the scene at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, told The Jerusalem Post by phone what he witnessed. "I was 15 meters from the entrance of the hotel. The big window in the entrance shattered. They told us the explosion was inside and many people were killed and injured." Israeli Embassy spokesman Jacob Raber said there were no immediate reports of Israeli casualties. The embassy said it had no prior warnings. "We didn't have any more alert than usual," Raber told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Amman. "But our security is very high, particularly now since the situation is sensitive because of what is happening in Iraq and Syria. Jordan was the only place in the Middle East that was quiet. Until now the Jordanian security forces succeeded in foiling other attacks. But they missed this one. Then again, even bigger countries missed such attacks." He added, "We hope that it won't affect our diplomatic work, our ability to move. The limitations are security-related." Israeli authorities opened the Allenby Bridge overnight to allow Israelis to return from Jordan. King Abdullah II, who was on an official visit to Kazakhstan, cut short his trip and was returning home Wednesday night. The hotels are frequented by American and European businessmen and diplomats. The Radisson, in particular, is popular with Israeli tourists, and was a target of several foiled al-Qaida plots in the past. One Jordanian watching Al-Jazeera told the Post by phone from Amman: "This is absolutely crazy. My children and I are crying over the innocent people who were killed. "The people who do this want to destabilize Jordan, this is not because of Israeli guests," he said. Arson experts arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel shortly after the explosion to inspect the scene and ensure that there were no other bombs, according to an AP reporter on the scene. Black smoke rose into the night and wounded stumbled out of the hotels. The stone entrance of the Grand Hyatt was completely shattered. An AP reporter saw seven bodies carried out and many more wounded on stretchers. "It was a miracle that we made it out with just a scratch," said a British guest at the Grand Hyatt. An American guest said a bomb exploded in the lobby. "Several of my friends have died. The people who carried this out were cowards," he said. Mahmoud, the owner of a small hotel in Amman, sat shocked in the hotel reception area. "This is the first time this happened in Amman," he told the Post. "Everybody feels a bit scared inside but we don't want the guests to feel it. We have employed extra security." Mahmoud said that the terrorists wanted to show that they were unstoppable. "Maybe they want to show that although the big hotels have a lot of security, it doesn't matter. They will succeed in what they want to do." The blast ripped through the Radisson during a wedding party with at least 300 guests. Police said at least five people were killed and 20 wounded in that explosion. "We thought it was fireworks for the wedding but I saw people falling to the ground," said Ahmed, a wedding guest. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly." Ayman al-Safadi, editor of Jordan's Al-Ghad newspaper, told Al-Arabiya satellite network that it was a "terrorist operation." "Finally, the terrorists succeeded in breaking the security in Jordan," he said, referring to past success in foiling a number of terror plots. Amman has become a base for Westerners who fly in and out of Iraq for work. The city's main luxury hotels downtown are often full of American and British officials and contractors enjoying the relative quiet of Amman before heading in or out of Iraq. But they also host many Arab tourists who prefer not to vacation in America and Europe anymore. The hotels have even become a gathering spot for the affluent Iraqis who have fled their country's violence and congregated here. Amman has changed somewhat in recent months because of the boom caused by money from affluent Iraqis, with high-priced prostitution also putting in an appearance. Jordan, a key ally of the United States, had largely escaped the terror attacks that have hit other parts of the Middle East, and its sleepy capital, Amman, is viewed as a haven of stability in the region. But Jordan has not been entirely immune: On August 19, terrorists fired three Katyusha rockets at a Navy ship docked at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, narrowly missing it and killing a Jordanian soldier. Jordanian officials blamed that attack on al-Qaida in Iraq, and there have been growing worries that the violence in Iraq could spill over into Jordan, where many Iraqi exiles have taken refuge from the violence. Jordan has arrested scores of Islamic terrorists for plotting to carry out attacks in the moderate Arab kingdom. It has also sentenced numerous terrorists to death in absentia, including the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.