Eleven Jordanian militants, accused of an ambitious plot to blow up multiple targets in Amman, had been planning since June the operation that would have been the worst terror attack in the Middle Eastern kingdom in years.
With Syria’s troubles escalating by the day, Jordan’s northern neighbour proved fertile picking grounds for the militants, who Jordan says were Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, seeking all types of arms from explosives to machine weaponry.
It was precisely the kind of plot that Jordanian and Arab officials have been expecting. They fear militants are seeking to destabilise the kingdom and use its territory as a launching pad for rebel operations against the Assad regime in Syria.
Since June at least, the men, said to belong to a Salafist group and who had been fighting alongside rebels in Syria, had slipped in and out of Syria on several occasions, bringing with them to Jordan sufficient arms to build up a weapons cache that would have levelled parts of Amman and potentially claimed hundreds of lives.
Jordan, which revealed parts of the plot on Sunday, said that its General Intelligence Directorate had been watching the group from the very beginning as they sought advice from Al Qaeda experts in Iraq via email on how to achieve the most potent explosive, and cased potential targets in Jordan’s capital city.
The group, calling itself 11-9 the Second, a reference to a string of attacks on hotels in Amman on 9 November 2005 that claimed 60 lives, had planned a two-phase spectacular in Jordan, a country that is an important Mideast ally of both the US and Israel, making it a frequent terror target by Al Qaeda-linked groups. The militants planned to use suicide bombers, car bombs, machine guns and other heavy weapons.
Initially, they intended to take out two shopping centres in Amman, drawing attention away from the primary target: Amman’s wealthy Abdoun district, home to glitzy nightclubs popular with tourists and the country’s affluent set and foreign embassies.
In an operation reminiscent of the Mumbai attacks in 2008 that claimed more than 160 lives, the terrorists planned to work in teams to carry out simultaneous attacks in Abdoun, where Western diplomats were among the targets. They intended to fire mortars into the district as the final part of the attack.
Jordanian intelligence “had all their activities under surveillance,” said Samih Maayta, Jordan’s Information Minister. “The group’s experiments concentrated on creating explosives that would do the maximum damage and cause the highest losses.”
Despite the scope and international aspect of the attacks, normally indicators of a sophisticated operation, the group at times appears to have demonstrated a surprising lack of discretion, sharing its findings on the Internet on how to make ever more deadly explosives. Jordanian intelligence was even aware of the group’s trials on explosives. By the time it was stopped in its tracks and its members taken into custody, it had started to recruit suicide bombers to carry out attacks.
More than 200,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Jordan since the uprising began last year. Jordan, which has remained largely stable as the Arab world has combusted around it, has taken measures to upgrade its border security to forestall efforts to establish a rebel base in Jordan. It has also arrested dozens of Islamist fundamentalists attempting to enter Syria and join Jihadist groups trying to overthrow the regime.
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