AMMAN, Jordan – A lone gunman from the same region as the slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader opened fire Monday on Western tourists visiting the ruins of a Roman ampitheater. Police said a British man was killed and six other people wounded, and the assailant was being interrogated for terror ties.
The attack in the heart of Jordan's capital came despite a heavy clampdown on security in this key U.S. ally since a string of deadly hotel blasts last November claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Police were trying to determine if the gunman, Nabeel Ahmed Issa Jaourah, was enticed by Islamic militants or terror networks to carry out his mission, said a security official said, insisting on anonymity so as not to harm the investigation.
Still, government spokesman Nasser Judeh said investigations showed that the assault was an "individual act" and that the gunmen had "no links with domestic or foreign" terror networks.
Jaourah, 38, who was captured at the shooting scene and is being interrogated, is a resident of Rusaifa — a village just outside Zarqa, a hub for Muslim militants in Jordan and the hometown of the slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the security official said.
A Jordanian of Palestinian origin who worked as a metal welder, Jaourah is believed to be an observant Muslim who once sported a beard — traditional among some conservative Muslims — but was clean-shaven when he carried out his assault, the official added.
It was the first major terror attack in Jordan since the triple hotel blasts in the capital that killed 63 people, including three suicide bombers, last November.
"This is a cowardly terrorist attack, which we regret took place on Jordanian soil," said Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez said. "This operation is considered a terrorist act unless the man is found to be deranged."
Jaourah struck just outside the entrance to the popular ampitheater ruins in downtown Amman about 12:30 p.m., said an eyewitness, Mohammad Jawad Ali, an Iraqi.
Wielding a gun, Jaourah shouted "Allahu akbar," or God is great, as he ran toward the tourists, spraying his bullets directly at them from behind. Then, he turned around, facing them, and continued to shoot.
Bystanders, including Iraqi refugees, helped two tourist police capture the assailant, who tried to flee.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she was "extremely saddened" to learn of the shooting. "Acts of violence such as this are as senseless as they are callous," Beckett said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy said it extended "deepest condolences to the victims of this attack. We have the utmost confidence in the Jordanian security forces."
Al-Fayez said that in addition to the 30-year-old British man who was killed, two British women, a Dutch man, an Australian woman and one woman from New Zealand and a Jordanian tourist police officer were injured.
Health Minister Saeed Darwazeh said the Dutch man underwent an operation to repair his liver pierced by a bullet. He said the one of the two British women was in intensive care, but did not elaborate on her condition. He said the New Zealander was expected to undergo surgery to remove a bullet.
The rest are in stable condition, he added.
Tourism Minister Munir Nassar said the six tourists arrived in Jordan on Sunday for a five-day sightseeing tour of the kingdom.
He said the attack is likely to have little effect on Jordan's tourism industry, considering that terrorism is a global phenomenon. "The whole world is a victim of terrorism and crime," he said.
The majority of the victims in last November's attacks at hotels were Jordanian Muslim women and children. But there have been attacks against foreigners in recent years and the authorities say they have foiled a number of terror plots.
After the November blasts, authorities tightened security around all tourist attractions and hotels, adding more metal detectors and police patrols.
Monday's attack seems to have succeeded because the gunman shot the tourists just outside the amphitheater's entrance — an area frequented by low-income and unemployed Jordanians and Iraqis in a district populated by conservative Muslims.
The amphitheater, built by the Romans between 169-77 AD, rises out of one of Amman's hillsides. It seats 6,000 people and is used for musical and other performances.