Details of Deadly Jordan Bombings Emerge
By JAMAL HALABY and ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writers
The DJ was putting on the traditional tabla drum music for the bride and groom to enter the hotel ballroom when suddenly the lights went out and the sound system went dead. Seconds later, he saw a flash and heard a loud explosion.
Soon after, the Iraqi woman who was to be the fourth suicide bomber ran out of the hotel and frantically hailed a taxi but had trouble finding her hide-out. Her dress splattered with blood and still wearing the suicide belt, she finally arrived at the safe house, one of two apartments the suicide team rented in a residential neighborhood. It took several days before her landlord said he grew suspicious and notified authorities.
In interviews with The Associated Press, top security officials and Jordanians who crossed paths with the bombers revealed new details Tuesday about how the four Iraqis launched the deadliest-ever terror blasts in this kingdom, all in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Three plush hotels in the usually staid Jordanian capital were hit at about 9 p.m. on Nov. 9, killing at least 58 people in addition to three of the bombers. The accounts given by those with whom the AP spoke suggest that at least two others involved in the attacks were in the hotels at the time of the blasts.
On Nov. 7, two days after they apparently entered Jordan and two days before the attack, an Iraqi man approached the husband of landlady Umm Mahmoud al-Fayoumi, asking to rent a basement apartment for himself, his wife and two other Iraqi men in their building in the Amman district of Tlaa’ Ali.
The Iraqis said “they were here to receive fertility treatment. I remember asking myself: If that’s the case, who were the two other men and why were they here?” said al-Fayoumi, 47.
It was one of at least two apartments that the group rented in Tlaa’ Ali, a middle-class area with a large Iraqi community.
On Nov. 9, the four Iraqis caught taxis to their targets.
The apparent leader of the cell, Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, and his wife, Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, headed for the Radisson SAS. In the taxi, they talked between themselves about Sunni-Shiite divisions in Iraq. Then al-Shamari told the driver not to repeat the conversation to anyone, the driver later told police, according to a senior security official involved to the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal details to the press.
Wearing 22 pound-explosive-packed belts around their waists, the couple entered the Radisson, which did not have metal detectors. They lingered outside the Philadelphia Ballroom, where Ashraf Akhras and his bride, Nadia, were celebrating their wedding with some 300 Jordanian and Palestinian guests.
The Iraqi couple drew the suspicion of a hotel clerk, who asked what they were looking for. Al-Shamari replied that they were Iraqis who had never seen a Jordanian wedding party and asked if they could have a look, the security official said, citing witnesses and video camera footage obtained from the blast site.
Once inside, they staked out different parts of the ballroom. Al-Shamari took up position on the right, where men were sitting in the gathering, which was segregated in line with conservative Islamic tradition. Al-Shamari was talking on his mobile phone constantly, witnesses told police.
Al-Rishawi found a seat on the left, near chatting women and a handful of playing children.
But when the moment arrived for al-Rishawi to trigger her explosives belt, there was a problem. She gestured to her husband that it wouldn’t explode.
The couple met up near the doorway to the ballroom, and guests told police they saw the husband angrily gesture toward the woman, telling her to leave.
As she moved toward the door, the lights went out and her husband jumped onto a dining table and detonated his belt, sending the ceiling crashing down and spraying molten ball-bearings across the room.
The disc jockey, Fadi al-Kessi, was just putting on the music when the power went out. Still, electricity was on outside the ballroom.
Seconds later, he “saw what looked like lightning and there was a loud boom. It felt like the explosion came from the ceiling, then people started running out,” he told AP.
It was not clear why the lights went out just before the blast, which killed at least 36 people, including the fathers of the bride and groom.
In a televised confession aired after her arrest four days later, al-Rishawi said, “My husband detonated (his bomb), I tried to explode (my belt) but it wouldn’t. … People fled running and I left running with them.”
She hailed a taxi on the street and told the driver to head to Tlaa’ Ali, but was confused about the address, the security official said. She was finally able to navigate by landmarks to the second apartment.
There, the landlord saw her rushing into the building, her dress covered in a spray of blood, the official said. In the four days until police arrested al-Rishawi in the apartment, the landlord never saw her leave.
During that time, Jordanian police launched a massive hunt for suspects. An al-Qaida in Iraq claim for the attacks said a husband and wife team were among the bombers, but police found only three male attackers’ bodies. So word went out in the press that authorities were looking for a woman. That’s when the landlord got suspicious and called police about his tenant, the official said.
Before authorities raided the apartment, al-Rishawi tried to find an escape. She got in contact with the family of her sister’s Jordanian husband, Nidal Arabiyat, another top security official said.
Members of the prominent Arabiyat family, centered in the town of Salt, 17 miles northeast of Amman , are known to have fought alongside the insurgency in Iraq. Nidal was reported killed in fighting with U.S. troops west of Baghdad in February 2004.
Al-Rishawi contacted Nidal’s father, Sheikh Mohammad Arabiyat, to help her get back to Iraq, but instead he notified authorities, the official said.
Arabiyat refused to confirm or deny the report to an AP journalist at his home in Salt. “Check this with the Intelligence Agency,” he said nervously.
Meanwhile, while al-Rishawi and her husband were in the Radisson ballroom, one of their fellow bombers — identified as 23-year-old Rawad Jassem Mohammed — was about 500 yards away at the Grand Hyatt.
Mohammed — thin, dark, with a goatee and wearing a black jacket — sat sipping orange juice with another Iraqi in a coffee shop overlooking the hotel’s lobby.
Behind them, Syrian-American filmmaker Mustapha al-Akkad kissed his daughter, Rima, welcoming her after she had just arrived in the hotel from the airport, the security official said, citing two witnesses.
Mohammed looked particularly annoyed by the sight of the well dressed, silver-haired older man kissing the young woman — a public display of affection considered sinful by conservative Muslims.
Mohammed and the other man left the coffee shop and went downstairs, apparently to a bathroom. Mohammed returned to the coffee shop alone, looking considerably bulkier, struggling to walk up the stairs.
He stood near the table he used earlier and detonated his explosives — seconds after the Radisson blast. Akkad and his daughter and at least seven hotel employees were killed in the suicide bombing.
Witnesses said neither Mohammed nor the other man had anything with them when they went down to the bathroom, suggesting the belt was hidden there, the security official said. The whereabouts of the second man was not known, and it was unclear if he was among 12 people detained on suspicion of a connection to the attacks.
Moments before the two other blasts, the third bomber — identified as 23-year-old Safaa Mohammed Ali, 23 — arrived at the Days Inn.
Ali, who sported a short beard and wore a black leather jacket, sat in a small restaurant on the ground floor, said Khaled Abou-Ghosh, the hotel’s general manager.
A waiter asked him if he was having dinner, and the man — who seemed nervous — answered in an Iraqi accent that he wanted only orange juice. The waiter asked him to move to the area of a coffee shop a few tables away.
Ali stood and moved away, opening his jacket and tugging at something, Abou-Ghosh said. The waiter called for security and Ali rushed outside the hotel. He knelt on the ground and pulled at the faulty trigger cord of his explosives, which finally detonated, blowing his body apart and killing three members of a Chinese military delegation nearby.
Moments earlier, on an upstairs floor at the Days Inn, a woman was leaving her room when a man who passed her in the corridor told her — in an Iraqi accent — to return to her room because there was about to be an explosion, the woman told police, according to the security official.
Then came the blast.