Thursday, November 17, 2005

Turning point in terror

Ahmad Fadil Al Khalayleh, also known as Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant blamed for most of the suicide bombings and ambushes against the US-led forces and allies in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the Oct.9 bombings in Amman, Jordan, that killed nearly 60 people. The attacks showed that Zarqawi, bloated by what he sees as his "success" in Iraq, is seeking to export his brand of extremism to Iraq's neighbours and signal worse days ahead. However, the bombings, whose victims were mainly Arabs and Muslims and included women and children attending a marriage reception, have drawn wide condemnation from Arabs and Muslims. People are shell-shocked and are genuinely angry. The attacks could expose weak links in Zarqawi's ranks and perhaps even lead to the beginning of the end of the dreaded militant. In the meantime, the US faces painful decisions and compromises as options which Washington is unlikely to favour, writes PV Vivekanand.

In October, a letter surfaced purportedly written by Ayman Al Zawahiri, said to be deputy leader of Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda, calling on Zarqawi to adopt a four-phased strategy beginning with concentrating on evicting the US military from Iraq, followed by supporting the creation of an Islamic caliphate there, expanding the "wave of jihad secular countries" neighbouring Iraq and then confronting Israel.
Some viewed the message as genuine while others saw it as a forgery by the Shiites of Iraq who have been targeted by Zarqawi's group.
A message described as coming from Zarqawi in response said the Zawahiri letter was not authentic and asserted that it was doctored by the Americans as a piece of propaganda.
Then came the Amman bombings, which were interpreted by many as Zarqawi having borrowed from Zawahiri the idea of expanding "the wave of jihad" but jumping the gun since that phase was supposed to come only after the Americans left Iraq and an Islamic caliphate was created there.
Either way, going by the theory that Zarqawi was indeed behind the bombings that killed more than 57 people in three hotels in the Jordanian capital, Amman, there is only obvious conclusion: Zarqawi has shot himself in the foot by targeting Arabs and Muslims for his terrorist attacks and that too at a wedding reception attended by women and children. And the gangrene would only grow.
Zarqawi obviously meant to show to the world that he could stage bombings outside Iraq and is expanding his area of operations, and that he could draw on Iraqi supporters to carry out suicide bombings and similar actions anywhere.
However, the bombings have backfired. If anything, Zarqawi has lost his "standing" — if he had any at all — among those who saw him as resisting the mighty US military in Iraq.
The "Al Qaeda in Iraq" website which claimed responsibility for the bombings asserted that the attacks were directed against Israelis, members of Western intelligence agencies and their Shiite accomplices.
It described the targeted hotels as "a backyard for the enemies of religion, the Jews and Crusaders, and a dirty hideout for the nation's apostate traitors, as well as a safe haven for the intelligence services of the infidels, where they plot their conspiracies against Muslims."
The attacks were in response to "the conspiracy against the Sunnis whose blood and honour were shed by Crusaders and the Shiites."
The contradiction between the claim and the results of the bombings is glaring.
A list of the dead included four Americans, but none of them was a member of any active branch of the US military. Most of the dead in Amman were Jordanians and Palestinians and included women and children. An Israeli who died turned out to be of Arab origin.
Two senior Palestinian intelligence officials were killed in the blast — Major-General Bashir Nafeh, head of the Palestinian National Authority's military intelligence, and Colonel Abed Allun, a high-ranking security official.
The vast majority of the victims of the blasts were Sunni Muslims whereas Zarqawi is a Sunni and Al Qaeda in Iraq is described by the Western media as waging terrorist attacks against Shiites.
The bombings drew curses against Zarqawi and calls for revenge from Jordanians.
"He is no longer a true warrior against US occupation. Zarqawi has gone too far. This cannot be justified in any way," was the typical comment of a Jordanian after the bombing. "He is not killing Americans, he is killing Muslims."
Another comment was: "Islam has not sanctioned killing of children. Zarqawi's actions in Iraq are just doing a lot of harm. For him it's an open war against America where nothing is sacred. The suicide bombers kill themselves and don't care about any one."
Yet another was: "By killing Jordanians here in Jordan, civilian Jordanians going to a wedding, they did something that not even a Jew would do."
Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of Amman in the days that followed the bombings to curse Zarqawi. "Burn in hell Abu Musab Zarqawi," the protesters chanted
It could have been argued to a point that Zarqawi could find supporters and possible recruits from among the Jordanians of Palestinian origin who are frustrated with the failure of efforts to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation. However, the bombings dealt a serious blow to such assumptions.

A target for long

For many in this part of the world, the Amman bombings did not come as a total surprise. Jordan, which has signed a peace treaty with Israel, is closely associated with the US and has been a target for militants for decades. Its Hashemite leadership advocates a negotiated settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict — the Palestinian problem and Israel's occupation of Syria's Golan Heights — as opposed to the hardliners' policy of armed struggle.
Jordan has a history of having suffered militant attacks. It was among the first to be targeted by the so-called Arab Afghans, Arabs who volunteered to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s and returned home when the Red Army withdrew from that country.
Arab Afghans were led by people like Osama Bin Laden, whose mentor was Abdullah Azzam, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin. Azzam was killed in Afghanistan in the late 80s.
More than half of Jordan's five million citizens are of Palestinian origin who were ousted from their homeland when the state of Israel was created in 1948 and again when Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war.
During the early 90s, the first signs emerged of an organised Arab Afghan movement taking shape in Jordan. Dozens of groups directly or indirectly aligned with Bin Laden and his associates were bust in Jordan since then. Many were given jail sentences, and Zarqawi, who hails from a prominent Jordanian tribe from the East Bank of River Jordan, was one of them although no link was established between Bin Laden and Zarqawi.
Zarqawi spent several years in jail before being released under a general amnesty offered by the late King Hussein.
Jordan's perceived pro-Western policies and its close links with the US as well as most Western European countries had drawn the ire of the militants for whom the US and Europe are bitter enemies.
Several senior Jordanian diplomats were assassinated and many other targeted for killing since the 1970s because of the kingdom's advocacy of moderation and dialogue which did not suit militant thinking.
Exploding bombs in Jordan had another significance: The security and intelligence agencies of the kingdom are considered to be among the most efficient and effective in the Middle East. For the mindset of a militant, it is a big achievement to break through Jordan's net of intelligence and agents, informants and security forces.

'Expanding' network

Zarqawi declared that he was aligning with Bin Laden last year (as opposed to the belief of many until that time that the two were allies since the days of the Afghan conflict) and adopted the name "Al Qaeda of the Two Rivers" (Euphrates and Tigris).
Most of his extremist loyalists were so far seen to be "foreign" militants converging in Iraq to carry out anti-US attacks if only because of their bitter hostility towards American policies and actions towards the Arabs and Muslims, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and support for Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.
In general terms, intelligence experts say Zarqawi has indeed drawn extremists bent upon "serving the cause of jihad" even if it meant giving up their lives. Now he is seen to be seeking to expand the Iraqi insurgency into a regional conflict and might even be trying to demonstrate his growing independence from Al Qaeda.
By sending four Iraqis, including a husband and wife, to carry out the Amman bombings, Zarqawi could be sending a message that he could draw from Iraqi supporters to carry out suicide bombers.
The woman in the group, Sajidah Mubarak Atrus Al Rishawi, who failed to detonate a belt bomb at Amman's Radisson SAS hotel while her husband exploded himself, is now in Jordanian custody.
Sajidah is an Iraqi from the Al Bu Rishiyyah clan which hails from the Al Tawa region near Ramadi in the Al Anbar province bordering Jordan.
Her motive to undertake the failed suicide bombing is linked to the death of three of her brothers in the hands of the US military in Iraq.
She reportedly insisted during her interrogation by Jordanian intelligence officers that she is fighting "the infidels and apostates from among the Muslims."
Her husband, Ali Husain Al Shamari, had married her only very recently and the couple did not have children.
Intelligence sources believe Shamari married her Sajidah in order to make it legitimate for her to accompany him from Iraq on the suicide mission in Amman.
Jordanian officials say that Sajidah, 35, knows virtually nothing about religion and that she never got beyond sixth grade in school. According to the London-based Al Hayat Arabic daily, Sajidah was asked by her Jordanian interrogators about the turmoil (fitnah) her action would have caused, she asked "what does this word "fitnah" mean?"
She is said to have told the interrogators that all the members of her family were members of Al Qaeda and she used terminology that suggested that she was a full-fledged Al Qaeda extremist.
In addition to her three brothers who were said to have been slain by US soldiers in clashes in the Iraqi town of Falluja and elsewhere in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, she also lost her sister's husband, Nidal Arabiyat.
A Jordanian, Arabiyat was described as a Jordanian explosives expert who was killed in Iraq last year. He had been in Afghanistan in 1999 for explosives training and then came back to join Zarqawi in Iraq in 2003, intelligence information shows.
Sajidah was arrested in the town of Salt, outside Amman, where she had gone in search of the family of her brother-in-law after fleeing the scene of the bombing.

The 'mystery'

Mystery surrounds a report that all Israelis were told to evacuate hotels in Amman shortly before the bombing. The report, which was carried by the Haaretz newspaper, was subsequently "withdrawn."
According to the Haaretz report, a "number of Israelis staying at the Radisson SAS were evacuated before the bombing by Jordanian security forces, apparently due to a specific security alert."
The report was carried in Haartez print editions on Oct.9. On the same day, a few hours after the newspaper was printed and circulated, a report appearing on the paper's Internet edition said:
"There is no truth to reports that Israelis staying at the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman on Wednesday were evacuated by Jordanian security forces before the bombing that took place there."
The original article disappeared from Haaretz' website, but a second article is still available on the website containing the retracted paragraph (
Several Israeli businessmen were staying at Amman's Radisson SAS hotel.
According to the first report, they were also told to check out of the hotel by the Israeli embassy in Amman and they were escorted back to Israel across the River Jordan by security personnel.
Israel's counter-terror headquarters had, on Wednesday, recommended Israeli citizens not travel in Jordan. 
Israeli travel recommendations regarding Jordan were tightened a few months ago, but many Israelis still visit the country, including the ancient city of Petra in the south of the country.
The report that Israelis were evacuated from Jordan shortly before the bombing is a reminiscent of a report after the Sept.11, 2001 attacks in the US that nearly 4,000 Jews who worked at New York's World Trade Towers were told to stay away from work on that day. That report originated with Al Manar television of Lebanon's Hizbollah group and Iran's Kahyan International evening newspaper.
The report was never confirmed. However, it has been confirmed that an Israeli company with offices in New York had received an advance email saying the World Trade Center Towers were targeted for attack.
 Similarly, less than two hours after bombings rocked London's transportation system on July 7, the Associated Press reported that former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had received advance warning of the pending attacks. Netanyahu, staying in London at the time, was scheduled to address a conference near the site of one of the blasts, but according to the AP report he cancelled his talk. Hundreds of other media outlets around the world picked up the AP report, which later was retracted.

UAE's call

During a visit he paid to Jordan accompanied Sheikha Fatima Bin Mubarak to express solidarity with Jordanians following the bombings, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan emphasised that Islamic scholars had a major role to play in the fight against terror.
"There should be a firm stand by Islamic clerics and scholars who live among us against this terrorism. If they do not declare them (terrorists) apostate, the least they could do is to drive them out of the faith," said Sheikh Mohammed. "We should ask ourselves a genuine question and say if there is not going to be a sincere stand against such irreligious and inhuman acts, they will flourish. Personally, I blame the clerics and Islamic scholars who live among us and with us."
"Terrorism," Sheikh Mohammed went on, "came to us in the name of Islam, so there is no point trying to throw it in other direction. We should be the ones who should confront and resist it."
Sheikh Mohammed spoke the mind of people everyone shocked by the wanton killing in Amman when he asked: "What reason or logic justifies the killing of children, women or elderly people (gathered) in a celebration?"

A turning point

Middle Eastern experts believe that the Amman bombings could be a turning point for not only the Arab and regional role in the fight against terror but also for the insurgency in Iraq. Governments have pledged solidarity with Jordan and have also stepped up their anti-terrorism vigil and intelligence agencies have gone into full swing to identify potential risks and suspects. Laws against money-laundering and other terror-related suspect activities are being toughened in several countries and there is an increased awareness of the possibility of spillovers from Iraq.
Political analysts say that the danger would not be removed from the region without finding and implementing a fair and comprehensive solution to the Iraq crisis.
The US, which calls the shots in Iraq and elsewhere, is finding such a solution elusive. There could be several scenarios that could restore stability to Iraq, but all of them would involve compromises that Washington is unlikely or even unable to make, given its geopolitical strategies and objectives inherent in its invasion and occupation of Iraq. That means only one thing: Continued turmoil in the region.