Intelligence Brief: Amman Attacks

Posted in Broader Middle East | 12-Nov-05 | Author: Erich Marquardt

A Jordanian policeman stand guard outside Amman's Radisson SAS hotel.

On November 9, bombs ripped through three Western hotels in Amman, Jordan. If it is determined that the militants who carried out the attacks originated from Iraq, it will provide further evidence that the ongoing insurgency in Iraq could have a destabilizing effect on the region. Just as Islamist militants involved in the struggle against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s used their experience learned from that war in operations elsewhere -- most notably in the 9/11 attacks on the United States -- veterans of the Iraqi insurgency will use their experience to carry out attacks outside of Iraq.

The first significant sign of this development was the August 19, 2005 attack on two U.S. warships in the Port of Aqaba which was partially carried out by three militants who smuggled seven Katyusha rockets over the Iraqi-Jordanian border in a Mercedes equipped with an additional gas tank used to conceal the rockets. [See: "Intelligence Brief: Aqaba Attack"]

The latest attack in Jordan appears at this early stage to also have been executed by Iraqi militants. As PINR correctly predicted on August 30, 2005, "The prolonged failure to stabilize Iraq will result in members of the insurgency using their military experience to land political and strategic blows in countries neighboring Iraq."

The November 9 Hotel Bombings

The November 9 hotel bombings took place at the Grand Hyatt, the Radisson SAS, and the Days Inn. The three coordinated attacks were conducted by suicide bombers who used bomb belts thought to be loaded with ball bearings. The detonations were nearly simultaneous, and mark the worst terror attack in Jordan's history. The attacks left at least 60 people dead, and more than 100 wounded. At the Radisson, the explosion ripped through a wedding party.

The Jordanian police stated that they have recovered body parts of three suicide bombers, and said they have witnesses who attest that one of the attackers had a thick Iraqi accent. After the attacks, Al-Qaeda in Iraq -- which is led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- claimed responsibility in an Internet statement. The statement read that four Iraqis had executed the attacks, with two of the four being a husband and wife team. While the Jordanian police have not yet confirmed the accuracy of al-Zarqawi's claim of responsibility, the overheard Iraqi accent is one sign that at least one of the militants may have come from Iraq.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Jordanian authorities have already detained more than 100 people in a nationwide manhunt. In an effort to prevent any of the attackers from escaping Jordan, and also to better secure the border in the wake of this incident, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Moasher announced that Jordan was temporarily closing its land border with Iraq.

Iraq as a Training and Staging Ground for Islamists

Retired General Ali Shukri, who was the late King Hussein of Jordan's security adviser, recently told the media, "You've got to look at Iraq as a staged terror story. First of all it drew terrorists in, they started fighting the Americans and Iraqi government and now they are exporting terrorism." He further stated that the worrying part is "Iraq becoming the new training ground for terrorists as Afghanistan was before."

The statement calls attention to serious concerns that the power vacuum and subsequent instability created after the fall of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist establishment in Iraq is creating a breeding ground for Islamist militants.

For instance, in the Aqaba attack, Jordanian authorities determined that the militants who perpetrated the attack were "in constant touch with their organization in Iraq during preparation for the attack." After this latest attack, it will be important to note what relationship the militants had with Iraq.

The Bottom Line

As the recent attacks in Jordan gain media attention, prepare for more attempts by Islamist militants in Iraq to spread instability into the greater region. The pro-Western governments of Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia should all prepare for the violence in Iraq to seep across their borders. In addition, the proven effectiveness of Iraqi militants to smuggle arms across the Jordanian border means that other countries in the region -- such as Egypt and Israel -- should be prepared to face isolated terrorist incidents from militants originating in Iraq.

Look for Iraq's neighbors to heighten security on their borders, and prepare for more incidents of terrorism by militants who have gained experience and accumulated weapons during the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Hotels and establishments that are frequented by Westerners will have to remain extra vigilant, as those fighting as part of the Islamic revolutionary movement have publicly stated that it is legitimate to attack soft targets. [See: "The Threat of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Revolutionary Movement"]

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. All comments should be directed to [email protected].