The November 9th
bombing of three hotels in Amman is Jordan's 9/11. The simultaneous
attacks, claimed by Abu Musab Zarqawi's "al-Qaeda in Iraq"
terrorist network, killed 57 people, most of them Jordanians.
Despite speculation about Jordan's continued stability, the
attacks, and the widespread revulsion that they have triggered
among Jordanians and other Arabs, may actually bolster King
Abdullah's government. In Jordan and perhaps elsewhere, this may be
a turning point in the war against terrorism. By indiscriminately
attacking fellow Muslims, al-Qaeda may have stripped the sheen from
its image, lessening the appeal of extremism among younger
The Iraqi branch
of al-Qaeda, led by the Jordanian militant Zarqawi, has claimed
responsibility for the bombings. Although Zarqawi's organization
has roots in Jordan, it recruited four Iraqi suicide bombers,
including a husband and wife team, to execute the attacks, perhaps
to preserve its Jordanian members for future attacks inside that
country. The woman's bomb failed to explode, and she was later
captured after al-Qaeda's statement claiming responsibility for the
atrocity alerted Jordanian authorities to her participation.
shortcomings of the bombings were accompanied by political
miscalculations. Many Jordanians have long supported suicide
bombings against Israel and against U.S. and coalition forces in
Iraq. Zarqawi was a local hero to Jordanian Islamic militants and
even to some Jordanians who did not share his radical ideology but
were impressed by his high profile attacks inside Iraq.
But the Amman
bombings, which slaughtered dozens of Jordanian men, women, and
children who were celebrating a wedding, have outraged Jordanians
of all stripes. Jordan's Palestinian majority, which might have
reacted with schadenfreude toward an attack that targeted King
Abdullah's government (resented since its 1994 peace treaty
with Israel) were shocked by the deaths of many Palestinians who
perished in the bombings. Among the dead were the head of the
Palestinian Authority's military intelligence and the brother of
the speaker of the Palestinian National Assembly. For several days
after the bombings, Jordanians took to the streets to participate
in large demonstrations, shouting, "Burn in hell, al-Zarqawi."
The death of a
prominent Syrian-American film producer also roiled Syrians,
another reservoir of potential recruits for Zarqawi's organization.
The deliberate targeting of Jordanian Muslims reportedly dismayed
even al-Qaeda supporters in Iraq. A relative of one of the bombers
complained to a Washington Post reporter, "We were shocked
when we saw on TV the number of civilians killed in the operation
because we thought the killed would be Americans and Jews, but they
were Muslims, regretfully."
Islamic websites that normally celebrate al-Qaeda's terrorist
attacks are now replete with criticism of the indiscriminate
slaughter of innocent Muslims. This criticism echoes the gentle
reproach of Zarqawi's brutal tactics delivered in a July 2005
letter to Zarqawi from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's
chief lieutenant. Zawahiri cautioned Zarqawi that popular support
is important for realizing al-Qaeda's long-term goals and that
"more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield
of the media."
has disregarded Zawahiri's advice. Like many of the "Afghan Arabs"
who returned from the jihad in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and
unsuccessfully tried to import the jihad into their home countries,
Zarqawi's bloodthirsty zeal, when inflicted on fellow Muslims, has
undermined the appeal of his revolutionary ideology. Similarly
overzealous mistakes triggered a popular backlash that led to the
defeat of radical Islamic movements in Egypt and Algeria in the
cold-blooded attacks in Amman may be a turning point in the war
against terrorism, inoculating impressionable young Muslims in
Jordan and elsewhere against the virus of Islamic extremism. But
outside of Jordan, Islamic extremists and their allies will likely
continue to applaud Zarqawi's cold-blooded callousness-so long as
it targets Americans or Israelis.
Some critics of
the Bush Administration have argued that the Amman bombings are
spillover or blowback from the war in Iraq. This argument ignores
the fact that Zarqawi and his followers posed a threat to Jordan
long before the Iraq war. Zarqawi grew up in a suburb of the
Jordanian city of Zarqa as Ahmad Fadhil Nazzar Khalaylah and took
the nom de guerre Zarqawi ("the man from Zarqa"). He
was involved in the failed millennium bombing plot in Jordan in
1999 (which targeted the same Radisson hotel bombed last week and
other tourist sites). In October 2002, Zarqawi's group murdered
American diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman. In April 2004, Jordanian
authorities averted Zarqawi's planned bombing of Jordan's
intelligence headquarters and other buildings. That attack
reportedly would also have included the use of poisonous chemicals,
one of Zarqawi's specialties.
to Afghanistan in 1989, where he met bin Laden. Although he had
much in common with the Saudi millionaire, Zarqawi considered bin
Laden too moderate. He retained his independence from al-Qaeda and
set up a separate training camp in Afghanistan for his own
terrorist group, Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War). After the
Taliban's 2001 defeat, he fled through Iran, apparently with the
cooperation of the Iranian government, and set up operations in
Iraq before the war, with the suspected support of Saddam Hussein's
regime. In 2004, Zarqawi merged his group with bin Laden's and was
named the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Although he still has
ideological differences with bin Laden, including a fierce
hostility to Shiites that has led his group to bomb Shiite mosques
in Iraq, Zarqawi now ranks second only to bin Laden in the eyes of
many Sunni Islamic extremists.
developed a strong network among Arab Muslims living in Europe,
particularly in Germany, Britain, Italy, France, and Spain. This
network may have been involved in the May 2003 bombings in
Casablanca, Morocco, and the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul,
Turkey. Zarqawi's followers, many of whom hold European Union
passports, pose a growing threat to the United States. If allowed
to establish a sanctuary in Iraq, Zarqawi's branch of al-Qaeda will
become a much bigger threat. The latest bombings in Jordan
underscore again the importance of helping the Iraqi government to
defeat the terrorists that threaten not only Iraq, but increasingly
Iraq's neighbors and the United States.
Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies in
the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.