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Jordanian Police Arrest Suspect in Aqaba Attack


The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, linked to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for Friday's rocket attack aimed at two U.S. Navy ships in a Jordanian port. Jordanian officials have arrested a Syrian man they accuse of carrying out the attack, although police say his three accomplices escaped across the border into Iraq.

The group calling itself al-Qaida in Iraq issued an Internet statement claiming responsibility for the Aqaba rocket attack, which killed a Jordanian soldier and wounded another. The group is led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is accused of masterminding some of the deadliest attacks in Iraq and carries a $25 million bounty on his head. The statement attributed to his group could not be authenticated.

It is the second al-Qaida-linked group to claim credit for Friday's attack, which targeted two U.S. Navy warships moored in the Red Sea port but failed to hit them. The other group is the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which also claims to have carried out two earlier bombings in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

Jordanian authorities late Monday said they had arrested a Syrian man named Mohammed Hassan Abdullah al-Sihly, accused of carrying out the Aqaba attack. Police say his three accomplices, including two of his sons and their Iraqi ringleader, escaped across the border into Iraq on the day of the attack.

A Jordanian government statement says the men spent about two weeks in Aqaba scouting locations for the attack and renting the warehouse from which they launched the rockets. Authorities say the men smuggled seven Katyusha rockets into Jordan from Iraq in a brown Mercedes. The statement says they modified the car's spare fuel tank to hide the weapons, and then set the rockets up on timers to launch after they had left the area.

But a prominent regional military analyst warns that authorities would be making a mistake to believe the entire operation was carried out by foreigners. Mohammed Kadry Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies says he believes the attackers had to have help from inside Jordan.

"You are Syrian and Iraqi, and coming with a Mercedes and want to hire a place. All this I think will raise some doubts. In these little towns and cities, foreigners are suspected. This is not an easy operation. It needs a lot of reconnaissance. It needs a lot of preparation. This story which we heard now is a very simplistic [one]. And I don't think they can do it, if they are coming from outside, without heavy assistance from inside," he explained.

Mr. Said says the same would be true for recent attacks in neighboring countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He says domestic groups are probably doing most of the work, though possibly with information, inspiration and assistance from outsiders.

Over the past several years, Jordanian security forces say they have broken up a number of terrorist cells planning other attacks in Jordan, a heavily policed country that, so far, has not experienced any massive car bombings like those that have struck its neighbors in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. But Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian national who has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in his home country for the 2002 killing of a U.S. diplomat in Amman.

In its Internet statement regarding the Aqaba attack, his group, al-Qaida in Iraq, said it delayed claiming responsibility, because it was waiting for the attackers to return safely to their base.

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