And who was to blame? Why Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of course. The same tiresome, odd, ruthless, nebulous Zarqawi who the Americans seem as little able to capture or kill as they do Osama bin Laden, or Mullah Omar, or, for that matter, Radovan Karadjic and Ratko Mladic, the war criminals who butchered the Muslims of Srebrenica and other cities in Bosnia.
The suicide bombings that killed 56 innocents in Amman bore in that cliche beloved of all journalists, "all the hallmarks" , of al-Qa'ida and Zarqawi. Why do we keep gifting these creatures with the attributes of silver?
If, that is, Zarqawi is alive. A petty criminal from the Jordanian city of Zarqa, he certainly existed in 2003 when the illegal invasion of Iraq was undertaken by the United States and Britain. But many in Iraq believe he died in the initial air attacks of that war. In Zarqa, his wife, of whom he was very possessive, has gone out to work to support her family. When his mother died last year, the family had no messages of condolence from Zarqawi, an odd omission from a man who has supposedly embraced so strict an interpretation of Islam.
Repeatedly, American intelligence officers have "identified" Zarqawi from videotapes depicting the murder of Western hostages. But the killers were always cowled in scarves, their voices distorted. How did the Americans know this was Zarqawi? There are many unanswered questions about al-Qaida's role in Iraq - and now in Jordan - which we journalists now prefer to leave alone. Why Jordan? Why now?
Well, partly because King Abdullah is so loyal a servant of President George Bush. Partly because his forces are training Iraqi soldiers. Partly because he is allowing US special forces to train those soldiers on his soil. Partly because Jordan has also become a rear echelon air base for US fighter-bombers, which are attacking cities in Iraq. And partly because Jordan, with its unconstitutional monarchy and its growing slums of Islamists in its largest cities, is the soft underbelly of "the West" in the Middle East. Since the death of his father, Jordanians and other Arabs have been asking whether the King can justify his existence in what was once called Transjordan.
"What is the King for?" I was asked not long ago in Jordan. A dangerous question, and every act of violence against his kingdom makes the question more ominous. Jordan's peace treaty with Israel is as unpopular as ever inside the country. The Radisson Hotel, one of the targets of Wednesday night's attacks, was often used by Israeli visitors to Jordan.
Because he is so popular in the West, because he speaks English better than he speaks Arabic, because he is the son of the Plucky Little King Mark I, King Hussein, because he was a graduate of Sandhurst, King Abdullah is a popular figure in Europe and America, welcome in Downing Street and the White House. But there are those in Jordan who do not wish him so well. Wednesday night's attacks were a warning that the King might be safer in London than he is in Amman.Reuse content