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Pain and anger in Jordan

November 11, 2005

CHECHEN CRIMINALS MURDER children after taking them hostage at a school in Beslan, Russia; Palestinians kill Israeli civilians marking a religious holiday at a hotel; now, in the Jordanian capital of Amman, terrorists murder wedding guests, turning what should have been a celebration into a tragedy. As the atrocities mount, so does the anger.

Thousands of Jordanians marched through Amman's streets Thursday to express outrage at the suicide bombings that killed at least 56 people and wounded dozens more at three hotels: the Days Inn, Grand Hyatt and Radisson SAS. The bride and groom from a wedding party at the latter hotel survived, but their fathers and several other relatives were killed.

A small country of fewer than 6 million people, including hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled after the U.S. invasion two years ago, Jordan had largely escaped the terror attacks that plagued neighboring countries such as Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One reason is the Jordanian intelligence services, known for their tough tactics and intrusiveness in a country slowly removing some of its authoritarian shackles. Previous planned attacks, including one on the Radisson, were stopped before they could be carried out.

The majority of Jordanians are Palestinian, and there has been widespread anger at the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank -- seized from Jordan in the 1967 war -- and the invasion of Iraq. But the street protests after the Wednesday night bombings were a sign of support for King Abdullah II, who has pushed to modernize the country and whose father signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

The protests demonstrated that Jordanians understand the danger posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which claimed credit for the bombings. The terrorist group there is headed by a Jordanian, Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is as willing to murder fellow Arabs and Muslims as he is to behead Americans.

Marchers on Thursday called for Zarqawi to "burn in hell." The Jordanian guerrilla was jailed for several years in Jordan but freed in an amnesty for nonviolent prisoners six years ago. He has since been sentenced to death in absentia by a Jordanian military court for plotting the killing of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan in 2002. Washington has offered a $25-million reward for his capture because of his terrorist assaults in Iraq.

Counterterrorism officials say there is no foolproof protection against a terrorist willing to kill himself in order to murder others. But intelligence has stopped attacks in many countries; information shared among security agencies can help prevent assaults intended to instill fear in those who survive. The Amman bombings provide more evidence of the need for vigilance, and they reaffirm Jordanians' loathing of the man who once lived in their midst.

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