Rated R: Suicide bombers kill at least 57 in Amman blasts [;)]
Three suspected suicide bombers blew themselves up at three international hotels in Jordan's capital on Wednesday, killing at least 57 people and wounding more than 100 others, government officials and police said.
Two of the bombs exploded as crowds of people were celebrating weddings, leaving blood and destruction among guests at Amman's luxury Grand Hyatt hotel and the nearby Radisson SAS. A third blast targeted a Days Inn in the city.
Police said the blasts were caused by suspected suicide bombers. Police sources earlier told Reuters the Radisson blast had been caused by a bomb placed in a false ceiling.
"At nine this evening, there were three terrorist explosions in three hotels in Amman. There are a number of dead and wounded," Jordanian police spokesman Captain Bashir al-Da'jeh told Al Jazeera television. in their wake.
Jordan's King Abdullah blamed a "deviant and misled group" for the attacks. "The attacks targeted and killed innocent Jordanian civilians," he said in a statement carried by the country's official news agency, Petra.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but counterterrorism officials pointed the finger at al Qaeda and its leader in Iraq, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, because of the apparently synchronized attacks -- a hallmark of the militant network.
"The number of dead is 57 and the number of injured is 115 from the three blasts," Deputy Prime Minister Marwan al-Muasher told a news conference. He said most of the victims were Jordanians.
Witnesses at the Hyatt described a flash of fire followed by a thunderous boom that shook the hotel's foundations.
"I was eating with friends in the restaurant next to the bar when I saw a huge ball of fire shoot up to the ceiling and then everything went black," said a French United Nations official who was eating at the time.
"It caused absolute devastation. The bar was definitely the target, but the whole lobby was packed with people."
He said he expected both foreigners and Jordanians, particularly hotel staff, to be among those wounded or killed, but hotel officials and Jordanian authorities said they did not yet have any details on the nationality of the victims.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan canceled plans to travel to Amman on Thursday. He was joined in condemning the bombings by U.S. President George W. Bush, who offered U.S. help to investigate what he called a "vicious terrorist attack."
The explosion at the Radisson tore through a banqueting room where about 250 people were attending a wedding reception, witnesses said. A smaller wedding, attracting several dozen well-dressed young people, was going on at the Hyatt.
Reuters correspondents at the Radisson and Hyatt saw dozens of people injured people, including one young woman hit by shrapnel in her legs and back and apparently left paralyzed.
At the Hyatt, one waiter, identified by his name tag as Mustafa, lay motionless on the hotel's back steps as guests tried to resuscitate him before ambulance workers arrived.
Many Westerners, including tourists, businessmen and foreign contractors working in Iraq, were staying at the three hotels. The Radisson is known to be popular with Israeli tourists.
Police and some military units threw up roadblocks around the hotels and embassies in the city, causing traffic chaos.
Demonstrations were planned for Amman and other cities on Thursday to protest at the attacks. Muasher said Jordan had closed its borders.
Jordan has so far been spared major attacks on foreigners despite its proximity to Iraq and popularity as a tourist destination, but the authorities had been braced for trouble.
Katyusha rockets were fired at two U.S. warships in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba in August, narrowly missing their targets and instead hitting civilian buildings and the nearby Israeli port of Eilat. Jordanian security officials said they believed al Qaeda was involved in the attack.
In Washington, a U.S. counterterrorism official said: "Certainly there's suspicion that Zarqawi may have culpability here. But at this point it's too early to tell."
A Western security expert familiar with Jordan said Zarqawi would be a prime suspect behind the apparently coordinated suicide attacks, which bore the clear mark of al Qaeda.
Zarqawi, who comes from the poor town of Zarqa outside Amman, was jailed by Jordan in 1996 but freed under amnesty by King Abdullah when he assumed the throne three years later.
"This clearly would be something very personal to him -- not just ideological, but a grudge match," Hungary-based security expert Sebestyen Gorka said.
Another U.S. counterterrorism official said the Radisson was the target of a thwarted plot in which al Qaeda planned assaults on several sites to coincide with New Year 2000 celebrations.
"Al Qaeda and those guys like to go back to places they've missed or where they weren't so successful the first time around," the official said.
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