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Iraqi Woman Calmly Confesses How She Tried to Blow Up Hotel

She joined her husband on the suicide mission in Jordan but ran when her device failed.

November 14, 2005|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

AMMAN, Jordan — An Iraqi woman appeared on Jordanian state television Sunday and confessed to being the fourth member of an Al Qaeda suicide bomber team that attacked three hotels here last week, killing 57 people.

The woman, wearing a white head scarf and a dark denim dress, calmly identified herself as Sajida Rishawi, a 35-year-old native of the Iraqi insurgent stronghold city of Ramadi. The footage showed her standing and turning to display what was described as a deactivated explosives belt wrapped around her body.

Jordanian officials said she had been captured Sunday in Amman.

In a detached, matter-of-fact monotone, Rishawi described how she and her husband, Ali Hussein Shimari, 35, planned to attack a crowded wedding party in the Radisson SAS hotel Wednesday.

"We had two [explosives] belts. [Shimari] wore one and I wore one," she said.

"He took a corner and I took another corner" of the hotel's banquet hall, which was crowded with wedding guests, Rishawi said. "I tried to detonate [the belt] but it didn't work."

Instead, Rishawi said, she watched as her husband exploded his device.

"People started running out of the hotel, and I ran with them," she said.

Rishawi recounted how she, Shimari and two other Iraqis entered Jordan on forged Iraqi passports several days before the hotel attacks. She described how the group rented a furnished apartment in Amman, and said her husband taught her how to set off her explosives.

Jordanian authorities have identified their accomplices as Rawad Jassim Mohammed Abed and Safaa Mohammed Ali, both 23. The two men carried out the nearly simultaneous suicide attacks on the Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels, authorities said.

Rishawi didn't appear to be under immediate duress or pressure during her appearance.

The three attacks shocked a nation that had previously prided itself on being an oasis of safety and stability in the Middle East.

Jordanian King Abdullah II on Sunday called for a renewed global effort to combat terrorism.

"This is a phenomenon that brings us closer together because the only way we can overcome these extremists is to be united," he told a convention of international news agencies meeting in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

"I think that this has dawned on the international community in the past several years."

That counter-terrorism effort may now find new supporters in Jordan as a consequence of last week's attacks. Public sentiment here has been largely sympathetic to suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq, regarding them as legitimate acts of resistance against occupation.

The strong support for the Palestinian resistance is unlikely to waver in a country where as much as half the population is of Palestinian descent. But last week's attacks on civilian targets horrified the nation and should "put an end to any shred of sympathy" for the Iraqi insurgency, said Hasan abu Nimah, a former Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations.

Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher said the four bombers were working on the orders of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant who leads Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Muasher said that Rishawi was the sister of a senior Zarqawi lieutenant who was killed in the Iraqi city of Fallouja. He said she wore two belts: one loaded with between 11 and 22 pounds of explosives and a second containing ball bearings designed to inflict maximum casualties.

The use of a female bomber, he said, "is certainly a new factor

An Internet statement in Zarqawi's name, posted just after the bombings, said the attacks had been carried out by four Iraqis, including a husband and wife team. But Rishawi, in her brief televised statement, made no mention of Al Qaeda or Zarqawi, and gave no indication of the motive for the attack or the choice of targets.

"I'm sure they got more information from her," said Abu Nimah. "The idea was just to show that there was a confession without releasing details that might compromise the investigation."

Abu Nimah said he wasn't particularly surprised at the prospect of a female suicide bomber.

"With all due respect, women can be just as crazy as men," he said.

A senior Jordanian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saturday that Zarqawi had launched dozens of failed attacks on Jordan in recent years as part of a lingering personal grudge against his homeland.

Zarqawi spent three years in a Jordanian prison and was released in 1999 as part of a general amnesty. He fled the country and was later sentenced to death in absentia for plotting a series of millennium eve attacks on Jordanian targets, including the Radisson hotel.

Zarqawi's apparently expanding reach raised concerns with two U.S. senators on Sunday.

"It's like a franchise operation," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on "Fox News Sunday." "Mr. Zarqawi, in terms of controlling this insurgency or directing it, is public enemy No. 1."

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), appearing on the same program, added: "He is the great Al Qaeda threat, in my judgment, these days, as opposed to Osama bin Laden ... and our good intelligence and our good military have failed to bring him in. I don't understand that.

"Get Zarqawi, and our problems are going to start diminishing very quickly," he added.

The arrest of Rishawi, meanwhile, was hailed by Jordanian officials as a victory for the kingdom's security agencies.

"The efficiency with which we captured them proves that we will be able to deal with these terrorists," Muasher, the deputy prime minister, told reporters.

Rumors of Iraqi infiltrators have circulated steadily since the bombings, sparking fears of a backlash against the estimated 500,000-strong Iraqi immigrant community in Jordan. Government officials have worked to downplay those concerns, and Muasher emphasized that the bombers acted independently.

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