AMMAN, Jordan – Strapped with a disabled explosives belt, an Iraqi woman arrested Sunday confessed on television to trying to blow herself up with her husband in one of three homicide attacks earlier this week that killed 57 people.
The 35-year-old woman — the sister of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's right-hand man who was killed by U.S. forces in Iraq — appeared on Jordanian state TV hours after she was captured by security forces who were tipped off by an Al Qaeda claim that a husband-and-wife team participated in Wednesday's bombings.
Looking nervous and wringing her hands, Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, 35, described how she failed to blow herself up during a wedding reception at the Radisson SAS hotel on Wednesday night after struggling with the cord on her explosives belt.
"My husband wore an [explosives-packed] belt and put one on me. He taught me how to use it," al-Rishawi said, wearing a white head scarf, a black gown and a disabled bomb belt tied around her waist.
"My husband detonated [his bomb] and I tried to explode my belt but it wouldn't," she said. "People fled running and I left running with them."
Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher said the belt she wore in the broadcast was the same one she tried to use in the attack. "The vest was caught with her," he said in a televised interview.
Her husband, Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, 35, was identified Sunday as one of three Iraqi men who carried out the bombings. The Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels also were bombed.
Muasher said the confession offered further proof that the attacks were the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has claimed responsibility.
Muasher said the woman was wearing two vests, one packed with explosives and the other with ball bearings to inflict maximum damage. "This technique was used in all three of the attacks," he said in a televised interview.
He said authorities hoped the broadcast of the details provided in the broadcast confession would offer some solace to Jordanians shocked by the attacks and he promised the woman would get a fair trial.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is led by the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, said in its claim of responsibility that there were four bombers, including a woman. The group said the attacks were to strike at Jordan's support for the United States and other Western powers.
A top Jordanian security official, insisting on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said she was arrested Sunday morning at a "safe house" in the same Amman district where her husband rented a furnished apartment recently.
He said Jordanian security was "tipped off" by Al Qaeda's claim.
"There were leads that more people had been involved, but it was not clear that it was a woman and we had no idea on her nationality," the official said.
Al-Rishawi, who is from the volatile Anbar province town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, said she entered Jordan from Iraq with her husband and two other men.
She did not identify the two men, but Jordanian authorities have said the other two Iraqi bombers were Rawad Jassem Mohammed Abed and Safaa Mohammed Ali, both 23.
"I was traveling with my husband who carried a forged passport under the name of Ali Hussein Ali and mine was Sajida Abdel Qader Latif," she said.
"We waited and a white car arrived with a driver and a passenger. We rode with them and entered Jordan [from Iraq]," she said.
Once in Amman, she said the four rented an apartment and her husband showed her how to use the bomb.
"He said it was for the attack on hotels in Jordan. We rented a car and entered the hotel on Nov. 9. My husband and I went inside and he went to one corner and I went to another," she said. "There was a wedding at the hotel with children, women and men inside."
She was interviewed by a man speaking off-camera during the three-minute excerpt of the taped confession broadcast on state-run Jordanian TV.
The segment showed her in different poses, including standing in front of the camera displaying what appeared to be an explosives-packed belt and sitting and responding in a steady voice to an unidentified interviewer.
Al-Rishawi's brother was al-Zarqawi's deputy, Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, who was killed by U.S. forces in the one-time terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, Muasher said, adding it was unclear when he was killed.
King Abdullah II, who also said Sunday that three Iraqi men and one woman carried out the attacks, has pledged to target anyone supporting or sympathizing with the bombers.
Al-Shamari and his wife, both dressed for a party with explosives belts under their clothes, entered the ballroom where hundreds of guests were attending a Jordanian-Palestinian wedding reception.
Muasher said the four crossed into Jordan from Iraq by car on Nov. 4, five days before the bombings, and rented a furnished apartment in the middle-class Tlaa' Ali suburb in western Amman.
The four left their apartment Wednesday and took taxis to their targets.
The bomb strapped to the husband at the Radisson used the powerful explosive RDX and ball bearings to kill as many people as possible, Muasher said.
No Jordanians were involved in the actual attacks, but several Jordanian followers of al-Zarqawi have been arrested, the deputy premier added.
Al Qaeda in Iraq's operation in Jordan — its deadliest inside a neighboring Mideast country — raised fears that al-Zarqawi's terror campaign has gained enough momentum to spread throughout the region.
Wednesday's Amman hotel attacks sparked the largest Jordanian manhunt in modern history and angered most of this desert kingdom's 5.4 million people and many of the 400,000 Iraqis living here. Jordanians took to Amman's streets to denounce al-Zarqawi.
Al-Zarqawi, who traveled from militant training grounds in Afghanistan to Iraq before the U.S.-led 2003 war, has been sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan for terrorism-related crimes here. He has vowed to topple the kingdom's moderate Hashemite rulers.
Jordan's confirmation of the Iraqi link could harm already bruised relations between the two, which previously have traded diplomatic blows over the crossing of militants over the border.
Earlier Sunday, Iraq's defense minister offered Jordan its support in the hotel bombings probe and warned that unchecked violence in Iraq will spread terrorism across the region.
"We are partners in facing terrorism," Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. "Amman's ordeal and Jordan's ordeal is the ordeal of all Iraqis."
The terrorists' "target is to kill tolerance and destroy coexistence in Arab and Muslim cities," al-Dulaimi said.