AMMAN, Jordan – A Syrian linked to an Iraq-based terrorist group has been arrested as the prime suspect in the rocket attack that barely missed U.S. warships docked in the port of Aqaba, the Jordanian government said Monday.
The government statement, read on state television, said the suspect, Mohammed Hassan Abdullah al-Sihly, plotted and carried out the attack along with two of his sons and an Iraqi.
The statement said the plotters were part of an Iraq-based terrorist group, which was not named.
Al-Sihly, who lives in Amman, had been surveying sites for the attack in Aqaba since Aug. 6, the statement said. He was joined by his two sons – Abdullah and Abdul-Rahman – and Mohammed Hamid Hussein, the Iraqi, in “carrying out the heinous crime,” in which three Katyusha rockets were fired from a hilltop warehouse situated on a hill above Aqaba.
Hussein was the leader of the Iraq-based group, the announcement said.
In the Friday attack, assailants fired three rockets from a window at a warehouse in a poor industrial area of Aqaba, a usually quiet Red Sea resort frequented by Western and Israeli tourists.
One rocket flew across the bow of a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship and crashed into a warehouse, killing a Jordanian soldier. Two other missiles flew in another direction, toward Israel; one landed near a Jordanian hospital, the other on the outskirts of an Israeli airport.
The attack was the most serious threat against the U.S. Navy since the 2000 al-Qaida bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
An al-Qaida group called the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack.
The government statement said the four had rented a warehouse in Aqaba, where the rockets were mounted and connected to a timing device.
Al-Sihly’s two sons and the Iraqi – who smuggled seven rockets from Iraq in the modified gasoline tank of their Mercedes – returned to Iraq hours before the timer launched the rockets, the statement added.
“The investigation showed that the terrorist group was in constant touch with its leadership in Iraq during preparation for the attack to keep it abreast on developments,” it said.
The government said the four had chosen Aqaba as the site of the attack “considering its touristic significance and in view of the media noise it will create.”
Aqaba residents celebrated the arrest of the Syrian suspect, television showed.