AMMAN, Jordan – Islamic militants in Iraq asserted Friday that the deadly coordinated suicide bombings at hotels here this week were carried out by four Iraqis, raising new concerns that the ongoing violence in Iraq is spreading beyond the nation’s borders.
An Internet posting in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq, its latest missive claiming responsibility for the bombings that killed 57 people Wednesday at three Western chain hotels, said that Iraqis carrying out the attacks included a husband and wife team.
The statement could not be independently verified, but its implications speak to a possible worst-case scenario for Jordanians, and a bloody homecoming for the militant group’s iconic Jordanian-born leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi, who fled Jordan several years ago, emerged following the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq as the leader of an insurgent group specializing in high-profile bombings of U.S. and Iraqi interim government targets. Now, if Friday’s statement is valid, al-Zarqawi has come full-circle: sending Iraqis across the border to strike against his homeland.
“This exporting of terrorism is a concern not only for Jordan, but for everyone,” said Tahir Masry, a former Jordanian prime minister. “We’re worried that another Afghanistan is under development in Iraq.”
Jordanian authorities continued their investigation Friday into the identities of the bombers, including analysis of security camera footage from the Grand Hyatt, Days Inn and Radisson SAS hotels.
Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher told reporters that 12 suspects were currently in custody. Under repeated questioning, he said that “some of them” were native Jordanians.
Critics of the invasion of Iraq say the Amman bombing shows that the American military presence is breeding a new generation of terrorists who are beginning to destabilize the region. U.S. officials counter that al-Zarqawi was a threat to Jordan long before the invasion.
Al-Zarqawi was convicted in absentia by a Jordanian court for allegedly planning a series of millennium eve attacks in Amman. Among the targets in 1999 was the Radisson hotel, which witnessed the heaviest casualties Wednesday when a bomber struck during a crowded wedding party.
Masry, the former prime minister, acknowledges that the Iraq war didn’t create the al-Zarqawi threat. But he said that prior to the 2003 war, al-Zarqawi was an “isolated case,” who then “became an icon.” “It broadened his base, and now they say he has thousands of people ready to die,” Masry said.
The prospect of Iraqi bombers striking in Jordan also holds chilling implications for the estimated 500,000 Iraqis living here. Jordan is experiencing a wave of nationalist pride in the wake of Wednesday’s bombings, and spontaneous flag-waving street rallies organized through mass cell phone text messages dotted the capital on Friday.