The insurgent organization al Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility Thursday for the blasts that tore through three hotels here the night before, the deadliest terrorist attack ever carried out in Jordan.
"After studying and observing the targets, the places of execution were chosen to be some hotels which the tyrant of Jordan has turned into a back yard for the enemies of Islam, such as the Jews and Crusaders," the group said in a statement.
The incidents marked the first time that al Qaeda in Iraq, which has asserted responsibility for many of the most spectacular attacks in Iraq's violent insurgency, has conducted a successful attack in another country. Its leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, was born in Jordan and has sponsored at least half a dozen attempted bombings and attacks in the kingdom in an effort to overthrow the monarchy and replace it with an Islamic government, according to Jordanian and U.S. officials.
Wednesday's bombings killed at least 59 people from at least six countries, the government said Thursday. Thirty-three of the dead were Jordanians; at least one was a U.S. citizen, according to wire service reports quoting a U.S. Embassy official. The Associated Press said one of those killed was identified by her mother as Rima Akkad Monla, a 34-year-old American living in Beirut who had traveled to Amman for a wedding.
The Jordanian government said 96 people were wounded, a smaller number than it initially reported. Among those were 70 Jordanians and at least two Americans.
The Palestinian Authority's ambassador in Amman said Thursday that four Palestinian officials were killed in the blasts, including the head of military intelligence for the West Bank. In a statement, the ambassador described Lt. Gen. Bashir Nafe, also known as Abu Walid, as "one of the most important Palestinian security leaders."
Also killed were Jihad Fatouh, the commercial attache at the Palestinian mission in Egypt; Abed Aloun, general director of the Palestinian Interior Ministry; and Musaab Khurma, an economist.
About 300 residents of the capital gathered in Abdul Nasser Square just after noon to denounce the attacks and declare their support for King Abdullah, the country's leader. Waving Jordanian flags and large photographs of the king distributed by organizers, they chanted "Death to Zarqawi!" as they walked to the Radisson SAS Hotel, scene of one of Wednesday's bombings.
Zarqawi's history of plotting attacks in Jordan dates to at least the end of 1999, when, seven months after his release from a Jordanian prison as part of a broad amnesty, he led an operation to bomb the Radisson and several Jewish and Christian religious sites. The so-called millennium plot was disrupted by Jordanian security forces at the last minute.
In October 2002, a group of Zarqawi's followers gunned down U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley outside his home in Amman, but the group was caught before it could follow through on plans to assassinate other foreign and Jordanian officials.
Over the past two years, while establishing himself as the most wanted insurgent leader in Iraq, Zarqawi has also persisted in trying to eliminate the Jordanian monarchy, whose leaders he has condemned as corrupt and beholden to the United States and Israel, his two other primary targets. In August 2003, his network detonated a car bomb outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.
In April 2004, a cell of his followers was arrested and charged with a failed attempt to blow up the headquarters of Jordan's intelligence service and carry out attacks with 20 tons of explosives laced with chemicals. And this past August, Zarqawi's network fired three Katyusha rockets at U.S. Navy ships in the Jordanian port of Aqaba, but missed.
Zarqawi has been convicted and sentenced to death -- twice -- by Jordanian courts for his role in the plots. For the most part, in statements posted on the Internet, he has freely admitted sponsoring the operations from his base in Iraq.
"Certainly, he has a personal grudge against Jordan," said Mustafa Alani, a terrorism and senior policy analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "And the fact that he's able to carry out a triple bombing in Amman, just three months after the Aqaba attacks, means that this group remains beyond the control of Jordanian intelligence."
U.S. and Iraqi officials in Baghdad said the attacks in Amman signaled an attempt by Zarqawi's group to expand the Iraqi insurgency to neighboring countries.
"We are concerned that Zarqawi is intending to spread his acts of violence across the region, and we believe that what happened in Jordan yesterday is an indication of that," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said in a briefing for reporters in Baghdad.
In addition, counterterrorism officials in Germany and other European countries said they worry that Zarqawi is eager to expand his operations beyond the Middle East. Last month, a court in Duesseldorf convicted four Zarqawi operatives of planning attacks against Jewish targets in Germany in 2002.
"We are witnessing that the Zarqawi network is becoming more active," August Hanning, the chief of Germany's foreign intelligence service, said Thursday at a conference in Berlin. "We see a growing threat for Europe. Therefore we are not surprised by an attack by the Zarqawi network. We expect more attacks to come."
Whitlock reported from Milan. Correspondents Scott Wilson in Jerusalem and John Ward Anderson in Baghdad and special correspondents Naseer Mehdawi in Amman and Omar Fekeiki and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad contributed to this report.