By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 21, 2005
IRBID, Jordan -- Abu Ali, a solidly built man with a beard and permanent grease stains under his nails from his job as a truck mechanic, was pleased when he heard about the hotel bombings in his country.
Speaking solemnly, looking around to see who might be listening to him, Abu Ali said he had been waiting for something like this to happen ever since his country allowed U.S. troops to assemble on Jordanian soil during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Nov. 9 suicide blasts in Amman that killed 60 people, most of them Jordanians, were justifiable payback, said Abu Ali, who lives in a small suburb of this ancient city near the Syrian border. He can muster little sympathy for the victims.
Abu Ali said he has shared his feelings only with his friend Moussa, a human resources manager who lives with his new bride in Irbid. "He knew he could talk to me," Moussa recounted as the two men stood outside the auto shop where Abu Ali works. "We have the same opinions." Fearful of retaliation from the Jordanian intelligence service, the men agreed to talk to a reporter only if their full names were not used and the village where they grew up was not named.
Their view of the bombings reflects lingering anger here over the war in Iraq and belies the images of Jordanians united under their flag after the suicide bombings. Although King Abdullah criticized the U.S. invasion, many Jordanians saw the hosting of U.S. soldiers as tacit approval. An unknown number of Jordanians crossed through Syria and into Iraq to help fight the Americans.
In the days following the Amman blasts, the Jordanian government has acknowledged that its citizens largely view the insurgency in Iraq as an Iraqi problem created by the U.S. invasion. Officials say they hope the bombings served as a wake-up call for many Jordanians.
At a recent news conference, Prime Minister Adnan Badran said the government was starting a campaign aimed at schools, mosques and the news media "to prevent our children and youth from being brainwashed" by Islamic extremists, whom he called the "enemy within."
"We are all eyes for this homeland," he said. "The time has come to build social education that resists this culture. What we need is social reform."
Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher, the government's spokesman, estimated that 60 percent of Jordanians consider the al Qaeda network to be legitimate. "There must be zero tolerance toward such heinous acts," Muasher said. "A clear line must be defined between resistance and the killing of innocent people."
But men such as Abu Ali and Moussa say they see no distinction. To each other, they declare support for Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian whose al Qaeda in Iraq organization asserted responsibility for the attacks in Amman on the Radisson SAS, Grand Hyatt and Days Inn, all Western hotel chains.
"Our government shouldn't have anything to do with Iraq," said Abu Ali, 39. "Just leave us alone and it will keep us in peace.
"This was a message from Zarqawi and his guys: The Americans should leave Iraq. As long as they stay, it's legitimate to hit them anywhere. The innocent people who died, they are the casualties of war."
It is hard to say how widespread such feelings are. When asked about the Amman bombings, nearly a dozen people interviewed on the streets of Irbid condemned the attacks. But most were also quick to criticize the Americans for removing Saddam Hussein from power and for leaving U.S. troops in Iraq. And, they said, they fear more attacks in Jordan as a result of violence in Iraq.
"I feel frustrated, because I didn't expect this will happen because our country is basically secured," said Amani Omari, 40, a computer typist. The bombers "are not Islamists. They have no relationship with Islam. Islam doesn't encourage bombings or killings."
Omari said Jordanians have not come out strongly against such terrorism in the past. Even now, she said, "there are specific cases that I sympathize with, but not all of them."
Rafea Abdullah Dagehl, 48, a retired businessman, said motives did not matter to him. "They killed children," he said, pausing in a vegetable market. "The guy who did this, he's a criminal even if he's Muslim."
Jordan is a relatively moderate Islamic nation. Its wealthy elite in Amman are eager to embrace Western culture. The king, who was educated in the West, promotes democracy and has championed Muslims to stand together against extremism. After the bombings, Abdullah told Petra, the official news agency, that radical Muslims have "no place among us."
But Jordan is also a country with a widening economic gap. Most Jordanians could not afford to spend the night in -- or even treat themselves to coffee and pastries in the lobby of -- one of the three hotels that was bombed. "We had one of those kinds of hotels in Irbid," Moussa said, as he drove around the city with a visitor. "They closed it. Nobody could afford to stay there."
Moussa acknowledged that some of his anger came from his disdain at watching the rich get richer. And if the violence ravaging Iraq has found its way across the border, Moussa said, he can only blame his government. "They don't care about the people," he said, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture at a banner of the king flying near an intersection.
Waleed Khatib, director of the Irbid office of the Islamic Action Front, a coalition of political parties in Jordan, said he did not sense any sympathy among Muslims in Jordan for those who target civilians. "We sympathize with any group if it's legitimate resistance against the enemy, if it's in the name of God," he said.
Khatib said he supported groups that "fight against the occupation in Iraq. I sympathize with it. But targeting civilians, we are against it."
The complexity of the issue is evident in the tale of Mohammad Hikmet and his friend Talal Badran. The last time Hikmet saw his friend they had stood up with several other foreign fighters "as one man," facing down American troops at the Baghdad airport in April 2003. By his account, which could not be verified independently, Hikmet took off running toward a building, as the men had planned. He did not look back, and he never saw his friend again.
Badran's older brother, named Adnan Badran, speaking in Irbid, said he presumed Talal was dead. Adnan said Talal, bedeviled by drugs and alcohol, went to Iraq to make himself right with God, a decision Adnan supported and kept from relatives until Talal left with money borrowed from him.
"He will be a martyr if he fought for the sake of God," Adnan Badran said. "But if I know he is bombing against civilians in Amman or Iraq, I will accept him only as a criminal. He will be outside . . . Islam."
Hikmet, who returned to Jordan after spending a few weeks in Iraq, said he was shocked by the bombings in Amman.
"I can't believe it," he said in a coffee shop in Irbid. "As long as you are Muslim and young and you know the true face of Islam, why would you bomb people who are innocent? Even if they are from different religions, different areas, why would we kill them?"
Asked if he would go back to Iraq to fight if he could, Hikmet nodded his head. "Yes, of course," he said.
Special correspondent Yasmine Mousa contributed to this report.