AMMAN, Jordan – Jordanian authorities say they foiled an Al Qaeda plot to attack shopping malls and Western diplomatic missions using suicide bombers, booby-trapped cars and rockets smuggled in from Syria on a date terrorists dub "9/11 the second."
Some 11 suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants were arrested for what would have been the terror group's first attack since a triple hotel bombing in Amman almost seven years ago, which killed 60 people, the government said Sunday. Al Qaeda has targeted Jordan because of the government's alliance with the United States and its 1994 peace treaty with Israel. The foiled plot was to take place on Nov. 9, seven years to the day after the Amman attacks. While American tradition lists numeric dates by month, day and year - hence Sept. 11 is known as 9/11 - the international protocol is day, month and year, meaning Nov. 9 is noted as 9/11.
A Jordanian official told the BBC "this was an al-Qaeda plot timed for the anniversary of the Amman attacks. The plotters "had planned to bring TNT explosives and mortar shells from Syria," state news agency Petra said. The goal was to "create a highly destructive explosive that would cause the highest number of casualties and extensive physical damage," Petra reported.
The authorities said they had seized large quantities of ammunition, machine guns and other items such as computers, Reuters reported. The militants were training to use "suicide bombers using explosive belts and booby-trapped cars", said another security source.
Jordan borders Syria and is home to at least 200,000 Syrians who have fled the civil war there. A Jordanian security source told Reuters the plotters wanted to attack while Jordan's security forces are stretched as it deals with the wave of refugees from Syria.
News of the alleged plot came as the country prepares to vote for a new parliament in January. Jordan has its own militant Salafist movement - ultra-conservatives who want Islamic Sharia law to be implemented in Jordan as a prelude to an Islamic state. Members of the group have been convicted of trying to recruit militants to fight against U.S.-led troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, plotting attacks against US and Israeli embassies in Amman and planning to kill foreign tourists, according to the BBC.
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"They were plotting deadly terror attacks on vital institutions, shopping centers and diplomatic missions."
- Sameeh Maaytah, Jordanian government spokeman
The officials and diplomats, insisting on anonymity because they are not allowed to make statements to the press, have warned of possible plots to destabilize the kingdom. They say militants seek to use its territory as they consolidate their foothold in Syria -- which lies on Jordan's northern border.
Announcing the foiled plot, government spokesman Sameeh Maaytah told an impromptu press conference that the suspects are all Jordanian and are in police custody. Jordan's state TV broadcast headshots of the suspects -- all in their 20s and 30s with most of them sporting long beards -- identifying them as "militants."
"They were plotting deadly terror attacks on vital institutions, shopping centers and diplomatic missions," he said. "They sought to destabilize Jordan," he said. "They plotted against Jordan's national security."
A statement by Jordanian intelligence said an investigation showed that the group "adopts the ideology of Al Qaeda" and that it nicknamed its terror plot as "9/11 the second."
The militants sought to carry out their attacks in stages, it added, with initial attacks on shopping centers and foreigners in Jordanian hotels, followed by more deadly strikes with powerful explosives and chemicals on Western diplomatic missions and unspecified "vital national sites."
One attack involved firing rockets at a district in the Jordanian capital that houses the U.S., British and other diplomatic missions as well as housing for expats and Western diplomats.
The statement said Al Qaeda "explosive experts" based in Iraq and elsewhere have assisted the suspects with manufacturing home-made explosives.
The statement did not say when the suspects were arrested, but Maaytah -- the government spokesman -- said Jordanian intelligence apprehended them in the past few days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.