Explosions ripped through three hotels in the Jordanian capital Wednesday night, killing at least 53 persons and wounding more than 120, a top government official said.
Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher said the blasts were all "apparently suicide attacks" and that most of the casualties were Jordanians.
As ambulances raced through the darkened streets and police and soldiers took up positions around the city, authorities quickly sealed off the three U.S. brand-name hotels: the Grand Hyatt Amman, the Radisson SAS Hotel and the Days Inn Hotel.
In an interview on CNN, Muasher said the deadliest attack occurred at the Radisson, where a Jordanian couple was holding a wedding party.
"Apparently a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the wedding party, and that caused the most casualties," Muasher said. "Most of them, if not all, were Jordanian," he said.
At the Days Inn, the attacker apparently detonated an explosives-packed vehicle at a security barrier outside the hotel, Muasher said.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombings. But Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who heads an organization in Iraq affiliated with the al Qaeda terrorist network, is "obviously a prime suspect," Muasher said. He said Zarqawi and al Qaeda were "certainly involved" in a failed rocket attack on U.S. Navy ships in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba in August. A Jordanian soldier was killed in that incident.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in a statement late today, said President Bush "condemns in the strongest possible terms the vicious terrorist attacks against innocent civilians" in Amman. He added that Jordan "is a close friend of the United States, and we will offer every possible form of cooperation in investigating these attacks and assisting in efforts to bring these terrorists to justice."
Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Amman bombings "have all the fingerprints of either al Qaeda or some other like group."
Usama Jabr, 59, an Iraqi physician visiting Amman for a cardio-thoracic convention, was in the Grand Hyatt's restaurant with some colleagues "when we heard something that sounded like a rocket attack I heard once in Baghdad," he said. "It was a violent explosion. We saw smoke and broken glass, and everyone started to panic. There was a waiter crying and yelling because of cuts in his eyes."
The first blast reportedly occurred at the Hyatt shortly before 9 p.m. and was followed shortly afterward by explosions at the Radisson and the Days Inn. All three hotels are popular with Western tourists.
News agencies reported that the explosions at the Radisson and Hyatt hotels took place near bar areas. Witnesses said the blast at the Radisson ripped through a banquet room where about 250 people were attending a wedding reception, Reuters news agency reported.
The three hotels that were targeted are all associated with U.S. interests and bear American brand names.
The nine-story Grand Hyatt Amman, a 316-room luxury hotel built in 1998, is part of the Chicago-based Global Hyatt Corp., which has more than 200 Hyatt hotels worldwide.
The 260-room Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman is part of the Minneapolis-based Radisson Hotels & Resorts network, which is owned by a subsidiary of the Stockholm-headquartered SAS Group. The five-star hotel was the target of a bomb plot that was intended to disrupt the 2000 millennium celebrations in Amman. The plot, reportedly organized by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi and a top al Qaeda operative, was foiled by Jordanian authorities in late 1999.
The 112-room Amman Days Inn Hotel, the newest of the three that were bombed, is an independently owned and operated franchise of the Days Inn economy hotel chain, a subsidiary of Cendant Corp. of New York City.
Branigin reported from Washington.