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Jordanian protest condemns al-Zarqawi after al-Qaida says it bombed hotels

AMMAN, Jordan — Hundreds of angry Jordanians rallied Thursday outside one of three U.S.-based hotels attacked by suicide bombers, shouting, "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" after the terrorist's group claimed responsibility for the blasts that killed at least 56 people.

A U.S. Embassy official said at least one American was killed and at least two others were wounded. The victims were not identified. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with embassy rules.

In an Internet statement, al-Qaida in Iraq linked the blasts at the Grand Hyatt, the Radisson SAS and the Days Inn hotels to the war in Iraq and called Amman the "backyard garden" for U.S. operations.

Police continued a broad security lockdown and authorities sent DNA samples for testing to identify the attackers. Land borders were reopened after being closed for nearly 12 hours.

The Amman protest was organized by Jordan's 14 professional and trade unions — made up of both hard-line Islamic groups and leftist political organizations — traditionally a vocal critic of the king's moderate and pro-Western policies.

Protesters — including women and children — gathered outside a bombed hotels, shouting, "Death to al-Zarqawi, the villain and the traitor!" Drivers honked the horns of vehicles decorated with Jordanian flags and posters of the king. A helicopter hovered overhead.

"We sacrifice our lives for you, Amman!" the protesters chanted.

State television said a second rally was planned in the Red Sea port of Aqaba, where attackers using Katyusha rockets narrowly missed a U.S. ship and killed a Jordanian soldier in August.

The streets of the capital were deserted early Thursday, which was declared a day of mourning. Public and private offices were closed under government instructions, apparently to allow tightened security measures to take hold.

The date of Wednesday's attack, Nov. 9, would be written as 9/11 in the Middle East, which puts the day before the month. A Jordanian government spokesman declined to speculate on what this means. But Jordanian citizens were sending mobile messages that read: "Have you noticed that today is 9-11, similar to America's 11-9?"

In Washington, the White House said the bombings have "the hallmarks of al-Qaida," but press secretary Scott McClellan said there has been no definitive conclusion yet about who was responsible.

President Bush called King Abdullah II on Thursday to express the United States' condolences.

Both leaders agreed that it's important to reiterate to the world that the terrorists cannot shake our will and our determination to defeat their hateful, murderous ideology," McClellan said.

Government spokesman Bassel Tarawneh said 56 people were killed in the suicide attacks, but he said that number likely would rise. In addition to the American, the victims included 33 Jordanians, six Iraqis, two Bahrainis, two Chinese, one Saudi and one Indonesian. He could not identify the remaining victims.

The Palestinian envoy to Amman the victims included two high-ranking Palestinian security officials, a senior Palestinian banker and the commercial attache at the Palestinian embassy in Cairo, Egypt.

Maj.-Gen. Bashir Nafeh, the head of military intelligence in the West Bank, and Col. Abed Allun, a high-ranking Preventive Security forces official, were killed in the attack at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Ambassador Attala Kheri told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

An east Jerusalem businessman, Bashar Qadoumi, also was killed, his family said.

Tarawneh said 96 people were wounded, although police said more than 115 were wounded. Police detained several people overnight, although it was unclear if they were suspects or witnesses.

"They are being interrogated as we speak," police spokesman Maj. Bashir al-Da'aja told the AP.

The official Petra news agency quoted Jordanian doctors who treated the injured as saying many of the wounds were inflicted by metal ball bearings used in the bombs.

The al-Qaida claim said Jordan became a target because it was "a backyard garden for the enemies of the religion, Jews and crusaders ... a filthy place for the traitors ... and a center for prostitution." The authenticity of the posting could not be independently verified, but it appeared on an Islamic Web site that is a clearing house for statements by militant groups.

The claim, signed in the name of the terrorist group's spokesman, said the attacks put the United States on notice that the "backyard camp for the crusader army is now in the range of fire of the holy warriors."

The hotels, frequented by Israelis and Americans among other foreign guests, have long been on al-Qaida's hit list.

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said the attack should alert Jordan that it needed to stop hosting former members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I hope that these attacks will wake up the 'Jordanian street' to end their sympathy with Saddam's remnants ... who exploit the freedom in this country to have a safe shelter to plot their criminal acts against Iraqis."

He also said Iraqis may have had a hand in the attacks.

"The al-Qaida organization has become as a plague that affected Iraq and is now transmitted by the same rats to other countries. A lot of Iraqis, especially former intelligence and army officers, joined this criminal cell," Kubba said.

Initial police reports showed that the suicide bomber at the Grand Hyatt was possibly Iraqi, a Jordanian security official said on condition of anonymity. He said the middle-aged man, who had explosives strapped under his suit, was stopped by suspicious security officials in the lobby.

Speaking in an Iraqi accent, the man said he was "looking around," and then blew himself up, the official added, saying hotel cameras had some shots of him.

Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher said shortly after the blasts that al-Zarqawi, who has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, was a "prime suspect." The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi is known for his animosity to the country's Hashemite monarchy. The claim of responsibility did not name Abdullah but twice referred to the "tyrant of Jordan."

In the attacks, the suicide bombers detonated explosives at the three hotels just before 9 p.m. One explosion occurred inside a hall where 300 guests were celebrating a wedding.

The police spokesman, al-Da'aja, said the attacker at the Days Inn tried to detonate himself inside the hotel lobby, but his bomb did not go off until he rushed outside the hotel lobby. Initial reports said the hotel was attacked by a car bomb.

Until late Wednesday, Amman — a comfortable, hilly city of white stone villas and glitzy high-rises — had mostly avoided large-scale attacks and was a welcome sanctuary of stability in a troubled region.

Al-Zarqawi is most known for the string of devastating suicide attacks launched in Iraq, often against U.S. targets but also against Shiite Iraqis. He has shown a flair for propaganda and drawn wide support among militants in the region.

But outside Iraq, and especially in Jordan, he has been equally active.

He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Jordanian military court for the October 2002 assassination of a U.S. diplomat, Laurence Foley, in Amman.

His group also is accused of previously trying to blow up the Radisson SAS in Amman as part of the so-called Millennium plot in 1999 and of the August attack at the Jordanian port of Aqaba. In Amman, a security official said authorities had tips on suspects who are being hunted, including possible sleeper cells or individuals who may have assisted the attackers and later fled in a vehicle bearing Iraqi license plates.

The official, insisting on anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to reporters, said DNA tests were being carried out to determine the identity of the perpetrators.

The state Jordan Television showed Abdullah inspecting the sites of the blasts after returning home early Thursday, cutting short an official visit to Kazakhstan. He later presided over a meeting of his security chiefs, including police and intelligence.