By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 11, 2005
AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 10 -- The day after his wedding, Ashraf Daas helped carry the bodies of his father and 13 other relatives through the ramshackle Sahab Cemetery east of downtown.
About 300 male family members trudged in grief Thursday to a set of graves still being dug in the amber desert. Some cursed. Some cried. Some chatted softly or whispered into cell phones. One by one they lowered the corpses, wrapped in white sheets, into the earth.
"Forgive him, forgive his sins," said a graying man, as he and others used shovels and bare hands to sweep dirt over a figure whose wounds soaked red through the fabric sheath. "There is no God but God."
The bomb blasts at three Amman hotels, which shattered the relative tranquility residents of this city had long enjoyed, took a particularly cruel toll on two families, turning a joyous occasion into a cause for mourning. Among the 59 people who died Wednesday night were more than 20 guests at a wedding reception just underway at the Radisson SAS Hotel's Philadelphia ballroom.
Each of the stricken families had relatives in Northern Virginia, who gathered Thursday night at a Falls Church mosque for memorial prayers.
Daas's bride, Nadia Alami, lost her father, Anis, along with a brother. Both will be buried Saturday. Her mother is in intensive care at Jordan Hospital.
"We were waiting for this day since they met three years ago. He knew at the start that he would marry her," said Bashar Daas, 32, Ashraf's younger brother by two years. "The best day became the worst."
Both families are Jordanians of Palestinian descent. The Daases, scattered through the Middle East and beyond, had arrived in Amman this week from Kuwait, France, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The Alamis live mostly in and around the Jordanian capital. Ashraf, a medical supplies salesman, met Nadia, then a college student, through mutual friends, Bashar Daas said.
Bashar Daas recalled with vivid detail the moment the bomb exploded. Guests had begun to enter the ballroom while the bride and groom waited outside to be greeted once the crowd had assembled, as is customary at weddings here. Bashar said he was standing about six feet behind his father when the blast, which he said appeared to come from the ceiling, knocked him to the ground.
"I thought it was an earthquake," he said. "If they had waited another minute, until everyone was inside, it would have been a massacre -- 50, 60 people dead easily."
Unhurt, he saw his father, Khalid, 61, lying in front of him, unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. He checked his father's pulse; he was still alive. A hotel doctor looked his father over and estimated he would be dead in 15 minutes without more medical attention. An ambulance arrived seven minutes later, Bashar Daas said. When his father was not loaded inside, he chased the ambulance down the street, dislocating his shoulder as he banged its windows with his fist.
Thursday morning, the Radisson's staff mopped blood from the floor and swept up broken glass as investigators wearing rubber gloves and surgical masks used small metal tools to sift through shards for clues. The ceiling of the ballroom was gutted by the explosion, with air ducts and electrical wires dangling from the blackened cavern like stalactites. Police at the scene said the blast was triggered by a suicide bomber strapped with explosives who had entered the party unnoticed.
Meanwhile, at Jordan Hospital a few blocks away, wedding guests and family members still occupied most of the second and third floors.
"It is like the whole Radisson came here because everyone was hurt," said one nurse, who declined to give her name.
Ibrahim Daas, 29, a cousin of the groom, sat in a dimly lighted room with his older sister, Amira Abul-Rahman, 50, who had bruised and bloodied legs and a gauze wrap around her head. Her two daughters, Rima, 30, and Riham, 15, were killed in the blast. Both were buried Thursday afternoon.
"I lost them," Abul-Rahman wailed, her hands raised to the sky. "I lost them."
Later, at the cemetery, the bodies of the dead began to arrive by ambulance. Relatives carried them into a mosque at the entrance and washed them in accordance with Muslim tradition, signifying that they will face God clean of sin.
More relatives began arriving by taxi, car and minibus, some still clothed in the suits they wore to the wedding the night before. The procession toward the graves began just after 3 p.m., with groups of about 12 raising each body to shoulder level. One man passed out under the strain.
After each body was buried, the mourners held their arms outstretched, their hands -- still caked in dirt from the burial -- shaped as if cupping a book. They recited the first verse of the Koran, which thanks God and asks Him to show them the true path.
"It's a pity for people to die like this," said a man who appeared to be in his sixties, as he turned to walk away.
Special correspondent Naseer Mehdawi contributed to this report.