Wedding party took brunt of the Amman bombings

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Arab guests who had been singing and dancing to traditional music at a wedding party were the main victims of the three suicide bombings in Amman, which al-Qa'ida boasted yesterday had targeted a city of "Jews and crusaders".

The fathers of both the bride and bridegroom, along with many others of their relatives, including children, were killed by the blast, which destroyed the banqueting hall of the Radisson SAS in the worst of the three blasts. At least 56 died in the three attacks; the other two ripped through the Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels.

The statement claiming responsibility for Wednesday night's attack ­ the first of its kind in the Jordanian capital ­ described the three hotels as "filthy entertainment centres for the traitors and apostates of the umma [Islamic nation], and a safe haven for the infidel [US] intelligence services ".

The statement attributed to al-Qa'ida in Iraq on the bombings, which were widely believed to be the work of the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was worded to emphasise Jordan's friendly relations with the US and Israel.

Yet the slaughter at the wedding party ­ which was just reaching a climax after the bride, Nadia Alami, and the groom, Ashraf Da'as, had, with more than 100 of the 250 guests, made a traditional procession, a zafeh ­ made a mockery of its content.

Mr Da'as's family, like so many Jordanian residents, are originally Palestinians, in their case from a village near Jenin. He said: "We were just outside but my father, Khaled, was in the middle of the room welcoming all our guests when the explosion happened. He was saying 'welcome, welcome' but shrapnel hit him in the head and he died instantly."

Mr Da'as, who said that 16 of his own family and 15 of his bride's relatives had been victims of the blast, declared: "The world has to know this has nothing to do with Islam."

One eyewitness said that the bridegroom's father, had been "cut to pieces by the explosion. They collected his body into a sack".

The extent of the human devastation wreaked by the bombings was unmistakable in the nine Amman hospitals to which the victims were taken. Amira Dahai lay in shock, weeping, as she described how she had watched her two daughters, aged 13 and 23, die. "I wanted to hug them but I couldn't." Ms Dahai, a cousin of the groom, said: "One of my daughters was sitting in a chair when the explosion happened. She tried to stand up but then her head fell to one side."

A baby, Toleen Karim, was being bottle-fed by a nurse, having survived a blast that killed her mother Natanya 22, and grandmother Narna Arif, 40.

Clutching the hand of his four-year-old son, Amar, as the boy drifted in and out of consciousness from internal haemorrhaging at the Jordan Hospital's intensive care unit, Abdul Rahim Kilani, 48, said he and his family had missed the explosion because they were a few minutes late at the wedding.

Still wearing the dark suit, brown shirt and striped tie he had put on for the wedding after his 21-hour vigil at his son's bedside, Mr Kilani, a doctor, said neurosurgeons were deciding whether to operate to try to remove shrapnel embedded 1cm deep into the brain of Amar, one of five critically ill victims in the hospital. Another piece of shrapnel was still in his abdomen.

Mr Kilani explained: "We are very close neighbours of the bridegroom and Amar went separately to the wedding in the car with the groom's parents and grandparents."

After hearing of the explosion from a policeman as he drove to the wedding, Mr Kilani rushed instead straight to the hospital. "[Amar] was just 4 metres behind the groom's father when he was killed by the explosion." He added: "I just don't know who could do this sort of thing. I don't believe they are Jordanians. The people who did this are not human, they are animals."

Mr Kilani said the doctors did not know whether Amar would be paralysed if he lived. Beside the boy's pillow lay a favourite toy, a blue battery-operated car to distract him when he recovered consciousness. " It is to help him because when he wakes up he cries with pain," he said.

Jordan's King Abdullah pledged to "pull from their holes" the militants responsible. "We will pursue those criminals and those who are behind them, and we will reach them wherever they are," he said in a televised address.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Marwan al-Muasher, said: "Three suicide bombers were wearing explosive belts. Two entered the hotels, the other blew himself up outside the hotel in a car."