AMMAN, Jordan – A suspected Islamic militant (search) confessed Sunday to being part of a conspiracy to attack Americans in Jordan (search), as well as the U.S. Embassy and Jordanian bases where the plotters believed U.S. troops were stationed.
Zuhair Shdeifat, 26, told the military court where he and nine other Jordanian militants are on trial that the plotters stockpiled grenades and rockets and raised funds last year "to defend Jordan's soil."
Shdeifat did not elaborate, but said another of the defendants, Amer Sarraj, 34, had wanted "us to carry out jihad (search) (holy war) in Jordan by attacking American military bases in Jordan."
Unlike the other nine defendants, Shdeifat has pleaded guilty to conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks and possessing arms and explosives with the intent of using them illegally.
The offenses are punishable by death. It was unclear whether the military prosecution would seek a lighter sentence for Shdeifat for pleading guilty. Shdeifat was arrested Jan. 27, but freed eight days later in an apparent deal to turn him into a prosecution witness.
Three Saudi men charged in the plot remain at large.
Military prosecutor Lt. Col. Mahmoud Obeidat accused the Jordanians of receiving funds from Saudi Arabia (search) via two of the Saudi fugitives. The investigation has not uncovered a strong link between the conspiracy and the Al Qaeda terror group, security officials said on condition of anonymity.
Obeidat's 13-page indictment sheet accused a schoolteacher, Faisal Khalidi, 30, of masterminding the Jordanian side of the plot.
Standing the dock in smart casual clothes — while his co-defendants wore dark blue prison uniforms — Shdeifat said Sunday that he, Khalidi and two associates had allegedly devised plans to go to Afghanistan to fight American troops pursuing Al Qaeda members.
When the plotters realized it was too difficult to enter Afghanistan, they changed plans and decided to attack U.S. targets in Jordan, Shdeifat said, confirming information in the indictment sheet.
Shdeifat said he and seven other conspirators in detention had bought 20 grenades and a rocket from Iraq to use in the attacks.
Obeidat's indictment says the militants chose to attack the U.S. Embassy in Amman and the military bases of Yajouz, Azraq, Jafr and al-Safawi — desert towns along a 248-mile highway from Amman to the Iraqi border.
When they selected these bases in early 2002, the government denied there were any U.S. troops in Jordan.
Weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March, Jordan said it had allowed several hundred American soldiers to operate an air-defense system to protect the country from possible Iraqi missiles.
Jordan, a moderate Arab nation with close ties to America and a peace treaty with Israel, has been targeted by terrorists several times in recent years. Twenty-two extremists were convicted of plotting to attack U.S. and Israeli tourists during the kingdom's millennium celebrations.