Jordanian authorities today arrested an Iraqi woman who confessed to being part of a husband-and-wife team of suicide bombers but whose explosives failed to detonate during a terrorist attack on three Amman hotels last week.
In a recorded confession aired on Jordanian state-run television hours after the arrest, the woman modeled the explosives-packed suicide belt she wore and showed how she tried in vain to pull a cord to detonate it inside a crowded hotel ballroom.
When the belt failed to go off and her husband detonated his belt, she said, "People fled running, and I left running with them."
The arrest, announced at a news conference by Jordan's deputy prime minister, came after authorities were tipped off by an Iraq-based group's claim on the Internet that four Iraqi suicide bombers, including a married couple, carried out the attacks Wednesday that killed more than 50 people.
Jordanian officials said yesterday they had found the remains of only three suicide bombers -- all males -- and discounted the claim that a woman was involved. But the statement by the group, al Qaeda in Iraq, focused the search for accomplices on an Iraqi woman, and security forces picked up the alleged fourth bomber this morning at a safe house in Amman.
"There were leads that more people had been involved, but it was not clear that it was a woman, and we had no idea on her nationality," the Associated Press quoted a top Jordanian security official as saying. He said she was arrested in the same Amman district where her husband recently rented a furnished apartment.
The woman, identified as Sajida Mubarak Atrous Rishawi, 35, was interrogated by Jordanian intelligence before being presented on state-run Jordanian television to make a public confession.
Dressed in black except for a white head scarf, Rishawi said her husband had shown her how to set off the suicide belt and had put it on her. At one point during the confession, she donned the belt -- rendered harmless by Jordanian experts -- and demonstrated how it was supposed to work. On the night of the attack, she had worn it under her clothing, she said.
The confession was aired after Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher told reporters earlier today that Rishawi failed to detonate her explosives belt at the Radisson SAS Hotel Wednesday night after struggling with a cord inside a ballroom where a wedding party was taking place. Her husband saw her fumbling with the cord and "pushed her out of the ballroom," then blew himself up, Muasher said.
Rishawi's version was slightly different.
"My husband wore a [suicide] belt and put one on me," Rishawi said. "He taught me how to use it."
She continued, "We went into the hotel. He took a corner, and I took another. There was a wedding in the hotel. There were women and children."
When her husband "executed the attack," she said, "I tried to explode my belt, but it wouldn't. People fled running, and I left running with them."
Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group headed by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, was apparently unaware that Rishawi had survived the suicide attacks when it issued a series of statements claiming responsibility for them last week and identifying the perpetrators as an Iraqi married couple and two Iraqi men. The latest of three statements identified the bombers by pseudonyms and said the wife of one of the men had chosen to follow her husband into martyrdom.
Muasher later said on CNN that Rishawi was still wearing the suicide vest when she was arrested. He said each of the bombers actually wore two belts -- one packed with the powerful explosive RDX and the other filled with ball bearings.
He said Rishawi "will be tried in a Jordanian court," adding, "She's entitled to a fair trial, and she will get one." Muasher said the government decided to air the confession to "give the Jordanian public some relief." Investigators are continuing a probe to determine whether anyone else was involved in the plot or whether al Qaeda in Iraq has cells operating in Jordan, he said.
In the news conference, Muasher identified the husband as Ali Hussein Ali Shamari, of Anbar province in western Iraq, a hotbed of the insurgency led by Sunni Muslim radicals. He said Rishawi is the sister of Mubarak Atrous Rishawi, formerly Zarqawi's top deputy in Anbar province, who was killed by U.S. forces in Fallujah.
Muasher named the other two Iraqi bombers as Rawad Jassem Mohammed Abed and Safaa Mohammed Ali, both 23.
He said each of the bombers used a suicide belt packed with 11 to 22 pounds of explosives.
The deputy prime minister said the married couple entered the Radisson ballroom dressed for a party, but that their clothes concealed explosives belts designed to kill as many people as possible. When the husband blew himself up, the blast devastated a Jordanian-Palestinian wedding reception attended by more than 200 people.
Muasher said the four crossed into Jordan on their suicide mission by car from Iraq on Nov. 4, five days before the bombings, and rented a furnished apartment in the middle-class Tlaa' Ali suburb in western Amman, AP reported.
The four left the apartment Wednesday and took taxis to the targeted hotels: the Radisson SAS, the Grand Hyatt Amman and a hotel of the Days Inn chain.