Published January 13, 2015
Iraq's Al Qaeda (search) wing claimed responsibility Tuesday for a rocket attack that barely missed U.S. warships docked in the Jordanian port of Aqaba.
The Internet statement was signed Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the spokesman for Al Qaeda in Iraq. That group is headed by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), blamed for a rash of kidnappings, killings and attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Jordan said Monday it had arrested a Syrian, one of four men allegedly involved in the attack. The captured man's two sons and the Iraqi leader of the group were believed to have escaped to Iraq, officials in the Jordanian capital said.
The Jordanian statement said the four were part of an Iraqi-based terrorist organization, which the government did not identify. The government has received several warnings in recent months, however, that Aqaba had become a primary target of the Al Qaeda terror network, a security official has said.
Al-Zarqawi's terror group was the second to claim responsibility for the rocket attack, but the authenticity of the statement, signed by group spokesman Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, could not be verified.
The first claim was issued by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (search) shortly after the Katyusha rockets were fired from a hilltop warehouse, overlooking Aqaba and its port.
The al-Zarqawi group explained the delay in issuing its claim by saying it waited five days "so that the brothers could finish retreating."
"God has enabled your brothers in the military wing of the Al Qaeda in Iraq to plan for the Aqaba invasion a while ago," said the statement, which appeared on a militant Islamic Web site. "After finishing the preparations and deciding on the targets, your brothers launched the rockets."
Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment on the claim, but investigators have said the rocket assault carried the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.
The Syrian arrested in the attack was identified as Mohammed Hassan Abdullah al-Sihly. He was assisted by his two sons, who also hailed from the northern Syrian city of Hama, although the father was said to live in Amman. The fourth member of the team and its reputed leader was Mohammed Hamid Hussein, an Iraqi.
In the Friday attack, the most serious against the U.S. Navy since the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (search) in Yemen, one rocket flew across the bow of a U.S. amphibious assault ship and crashed into a warehouse, killing a Jordanian soldier. Another missile landed near a Jordanian hospital, and a third hit a taxi on the outskirts of an Israeli airport, but did not explode.
A Jordanian government official said the rocket launch was triggered by a timing device that allowed al-Sihly's sons and the Iraqi to escape into Iraq hours before the attack. The official did not explain why al-Sihly did not also manage to flee.
While Jordan did not name the alleged Iraqi-based group to which the four belonged, the statement said four unfired rockets left in the warehouse were similar to those used by Iraqi insurgents in attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces.
The government said Al-Sihly had been surveying sites for the attack in Aqaba since Aug. 6. It said the four plotters had smuggled the seven rockets into Jordan from Iraq, modifying the gasoline tank of their Mercedes to hide the weapons.
"The investigation showed that the terrorist group was in constant touch with its leadership in Iraq during preparation for the attack to keep it abreast on developments," the statement said.
Authorities believe the unfired rockets were intended for other Aqaba targets. Key sites in the city include a beach-front compound of palaces — one a vacation house for Jordan's ruler, King Abdullah II (search) — and a chain of international hotels frequented by American troops and others on leave from Iraq.
The owner of the warehouse, where the rocket launcher and other weapons were found, has been detained.
Jordan, a key U.S. ally and one of three Arab states to have relations with Israel, has been the target of several failed Al Qaeda plots. Thirteen men are on trial for an alleged Al Qaeda-linked plot to attack Jordan with chemicals. The accused include al-Zarqawi, who is being tried in absentia.