AMMAN, Jordan – Jordanian police have arrested two alleged Al Qaeda members in the October killing of an American diplomat.
The United States government is showering Jordan with praise for its crackdown on terrorism.
Laurence Foley, a 60-year-old administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was shot at close range Oct. 28 in front of his home in Amman, Jordan, a normally safe Middle Eastern country. The killing shocked Jordanians and the American diplomatic community.
Foley, originally from Oakland, Calif., was the first American diplomat assassinated in Jordan in decades.
Information Minister Mohammad Affash Adwan said in a statement on Jordanian television Saturday that Salem Saad bin Suweid, a Libyan, and Yasser Fatih Ibrahim, a Jordanian, both acknowledged belonging to Al Qaeda. The Jordan government said bin Suweid trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said the two confessed to Foley's killing.
The statement said the men admitted to connections with Ahmed al-Kalaylah, a Jordanian fugitive also known as Abu Musaab al-Zarkawi, believed to be a lieutenant of Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden. German officials say he was an Al Qaeda combat commander appointed to orchestrate attacks on Europe. The information minister said only that al-Kalaylah is an Al Qaeda leader.
Adwan said al-Zarqawi gave the two suspects machine guns, grenades and money to carry out terrorist attacks against embassies and foreign diplomats in Jordan.
In a voice recording thought to be by Usama bin Laden, made public last month, the speaker mentioned the Foley shooting amid a list of other attacks around the world believed to have been carried out by Al Qaeda.
The U.S. government welcomed the arrest.
"We deeply appreciate the excellent support and cooperation the Jordanian government has provided throughout this investigation and we continue to consult closely with them regarding these arrests," said State Department spokesman Louis Pintor. "At this time, I do not have anything more for you and would refer you to the Jordanian government for anymore details."
A U.S. official confirms that the reports from Jordanian TV are "consistent with the U.S. understanding of the situation."
The official said the United States considers Jordan a great partner in the war on terror and has worked closely with Jordan but that the "U.S. did not play a direct role in these arrests or this operation" but that Jordan "deserves a lot of credit for their work in countering terrorism."
The U.S. official couldn't confirm, however, what other news outlets are reporting, that the two men were also seeking "stinger missiles." The source added, "if in fact they were seeking stingers, it's stingers with a small 's,' not a large weapon."
The official also said it was his understanding that it was bin Sweid who allegedly "pulled the trigger" in the Foley shooting.
Asked about possible extradition of the suspects, Fintor said he had no information about U.S. designs on prosecuting the men.
The two arrested men were in possession of ammunition and guns used in the Foley attack, and the men admitted they had planned to smuggle surface-to-air missiles into Jordan, Adwan said.
Police also found a plan for attacking "important targets" in Jordan. Adwan said the Libyan entered Jordan on a fake Tunisian passport and that officials knew the pair were involved earlier but withheld the information while the investigation continued.
U.S. officials said al-Zarqawi fled Afghanistan after the U.S. military campaign there began late 2001. American officials say he went to Iran, then Iraq -- where he underwent medical treatment -- and then on to Syria.
Jordan sentenced Al-Zarqawi in absentia to 15 years in prison for conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks and for smuggling weapons into the country. Al-Zarqawi and Loa'i Mohammed Haj Bakr al-Saqa, a Syrian, were named as conspirators in a foiled plot to bomb tourist sites in Jordan during millennium celebrations.
Foley was targeted because he didn't have a heavy security detail, Adwan said. They drove to his home the day of the killing in a rented car. Bin Suweid allegedly hid behind Foley's car and shot him with a 7 mm pistol with a silencer when the diplomat came out of his home.
The gunman escaped but Jordanian police rounded up dozens of Islamic militants for questioning that day.
The killing shocked Jordan's pro-Western government, which has maintained close ties to Washington despite rising public anger over U.S. support for Israel and preparations for war against neighboring Iraq.
Anti-American demonstrations are less common and smaller there than in other Arab capitals, and usually tied to protests against Israel.
Nevertheless, more than half of Jordan's 5 million people are of Palestinian origin, some with close ties to Palestinian extremist groups. Jordan and Iraq maintain close commercial links, and there is considerable traffic between the two countries.
At the time of the shooting, Jordanian police said the killing appeared to have been carried out by professionals who had been following Foley for some time to determine his schedule.
The killing also stunned the estimated 3,000-strong American community in Jordan, which generally considers Amman safe, despite occasional warnings of security threats.
U.S. Ambassador Edward Gnehm condemned the shooting as a "cowardly, criminal act" but refused to call it terrorist-related.
Security was immediately increased at embassies and diplomatic missions. In an unusual scene for Amman, red beret-clad special forces riding jeeps mounted with machine-guns escorted diplomatic vehicles through the city.
Foley had been working on projects to deliver clean drinking water and health care to poor Jordanians and provide loans to small businesses. Foley, a father of three, worked for the Peace Corps in India and the Philippines and carried out USAID assignments in Bolivia, Peru, Zimbabwe and Jordan.
Gnehm said there had been no threats or warnings and denied that security had been lax outside the fortress-like walls of the sprawling embassy compound.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.