Scores dead in three Amman hotel bombings; Israelis evacuated before attack
By Yoav Stern and Zohar Blumenkrantz
Bombs rocked three hotels in Amman late last night, killing at least 57 people and wounding more than 115 in apparent suicide attacks. One of the hotels is known to be popular with Israeli tourists.
"There were three terrorist attacks on the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels, and it is believed that the blasts were suicide bombings," police spokesman Major Bashir al-Da'aja told The Associated Press. He declined to elaborate.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
A police official said the attacks were simultaneous and hit minutes before 9 P.M. in two districts in the Jordanian capital, including the commercial area of Jebel Amman and Al-Rabiyeh, which houses the Israeli Embassy.
A number of Israelis staying yesterday at the Radisson SAS were evacuated before the bombing by Jordanian security forces, apparently due to a specific security alert. They were escorted back to Israel by security personnel.
The Foreign Ministry stated yesterday that no Israeli tourists are known to have been injured in the blasts. Representatives of Israel's embassy in Amman were I contact with local authorities to examine any report of injured Israelis, but none were received. There are often a number of Israeli businessman and tourists in Amman, including in the hotels hit yesterday.
Israel's counter-terror headquarters yesterday recommended Israeli citizens not travel in Jordan. Travel recommendations regarding Jordan were tightened a few months ago, but many Israelis still visit the country. Many also visit other regions such as the Jordanian Arava and the ancient city of Petra.
The first bomber, at 8:50 P.M. local time, struck the Grand Hyatt, completely shattering the stone entrance. An AP reporter saw at least seven bodies removed from the hotel and many more wounded carried out on stretchers.
CNN reported an eyewitness saying the Jordanian prime minister's car was at the Grand Hyatt at the time of the blast.
Police said a second explosion hit the nearby Radisson SAS hotel, where about 250 people were attending a wedding reception. At least five were killed and at least 20 wounded in that blast, believed to have been caused by a bomb placed in a false ceiling, police sources at the scene told Reuters.
The Radisson, in particular, is popular with Israeli tourists and was a target of several foiled Al-Qaida plots in the past.
Police also reported a third explosion at the Days Inn Hotel in Amman. There were also casualties at that hotel.
"The attacks carry the trademark of Al-Qaida," one police official said on condition of anonymity in line with police regulations. "However, it is not certain. We are investigating."
Ayman al-Safadi, editor of Jordan's Al-Ghad newspaper, told the Al-Arabiya satellite network that it was a "terrorist operation."
"Finally, the terrorists succeeded in breaking the security in Jordan," he said, referring to past success in foiling many terror plots.
Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned the attack, saying, "Justice will pursue the criminals" behind the Amman suicide attacks, CNN reported. Abdullah, who was on an official visit to Kazakhstan, cut short his trip and was returning home last night.
The Grand Hyatt and Radisson SAS hotels, in the commercial Jebel Amman district, are located about one kilometer apart and are frequented by American and European businessmen and diplomats. The Days Inn is located three kilometers away.
An American businessman who was at the Grand Hyatt when the explosion occurred said a "bomb that went off in the lobby." He declined to identify himself.
"It was a miracle that we made it out with a scratch," said a British guest at the Grand Hyatt.
"We thought it was fireworks for the wedding but I saw people falling to the ground," said Ahmed, a wedding guest at the Radisson who did not give his surname. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly."
Jordan, a key ally of both the United States and Israel, had largely escaped the terror attacks that have hit other parts of the Middle East, and its sleepy capital, Amman, is viewed as a haven of stability in the region.
But Jordan has not been entirely immune: On Aug. 19, militants fired three Katyusha rockets at a U.S. Navy ship docked at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, narrowly missing it and killing a Jordanian soldier.
Jordanian officials blamed that attack on Al-Qaida in Iraq, and there have been growing worries that the violence in Iraq could spill over into Jordan, where many Iraqi exiles have taken refuge from the violence..