Published January 13, 2015
Jordanian authorities are searching for six people who may be connected to the rocket attack that killed a Jordanian soldier and narrowly missed two U.S. warships docked in a port city south of Amman Friday.
Jordanian and Israeli authorities said militants fired three Katyusha rockets from a warehouse in Aqaba, a Jordanian Red Sea port 210 miles south of Amman, officials said. Sources told FOX News that the government was looking for six people, including two Iraqis, a Syrian and an Egyptian.
After the attack, a group linked to Al Qaeda claimed responsibility but it was unclear if the people being sought for questioning were part of that group. The claim, purportedly from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (search) could not immediately be verified.
"A group of our holy warriors ... targeted a gathering of American military ships docking in Aqaba port," said the statement, which also threatened to bring down King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The Bush administration is trying to determine whether the rocket was aimed at U.S. interests and how seriously to take the claim of responsibility.
"We condemn all such attacks," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who is with the vacationing President Bush (search) in Crawford, Texas. "We are investigating the matter and will cooperate with local Jordanian officials on the attacks."
The missiles sailed over the bow of the USS Ashland, close to an airport just across the border in the Israeli city of Eilat and near Jordan' Princess Haya Military Hospital.
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet (search), based in Bahrain, said the USS Kearsage and the USS Ashland, both amphibious assault ships attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were docked in Aqaba during the attack.
“We saw it fly past the Ashland," said Capt. Joseph Sensi, commanding officer of the USS Kearsage, of the rocket that eventually hit a storage warehouse. "Our ship is very tough but there are a lot of places where any explosion could have caused damage.
"I'm thankful that none of our personnel were hurt or killed but we are sorry that the Jordanians suffered casualties."
Jordanian and Israeli officials said the projectiles were not mortar shells but Soviet-designed Katyusha rockets, commonly found in the Middle East.
The vessels later sailed out of port as a result of the attacks, U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cdr. Charlie Brown told The Associated Press in Bahrain. The vessels were docked in Aqaba to participate in military exercises with the Jordan Navy.
"At approximately 8:44 a.m. local time, a suspected mortar rocket flew over the USS Ashland's bow and impacted in a warehouse on the pier in the vicinity of the Ashland and USS Kearsage," Brown said. "The warehouse sustained an approximate 8-foot hole in the roof of the building."
The U.S. military also uses the warehouse to store goods bound for Iraq, according to Jordanian authorities.
The attack drew natural comparisons to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which was docked in Yemen. Seventeen U.S. sailors died in the Al Qaeda attack, in which a boat loaded with explosives ramed the U.S. ship.
"It reminds you almost of the Cole attack," said FOX News contributor Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco. "Where do you get these rockets in the Middle East? From Hezbollah (search) or Iran. The Iranians are the biggest supplier of these rockets to Hezbollah."
After the Cole attack, the Navy implemented measures aimed at increasing the physical security of ships in port.
"We generally consider this entire region a higher state of a threat level than other places. There's always a concern for any of our interests here," Navy Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, spokesman for the 5th Fleet, told FOX News.
Breslau said the U.S. military would work with Jordanian officials in the investigation and that the attack would not affect the relationship between the two countries.
"We work very closely with the Jordanians, and we'll continue to work very closely with the Jordanians whenever we're in the region," he said.
The attacks came as Israel continues to withdraws its soldiers and settlements from the Gaza Strip, and less than a month after a terrorist attack on Egypt's Sharm el-Sheik (search) resort, on the other end of the Gulf of Aqaba from Aqaba and Eilat.
Aqaba and Eilat are about 10 miles apart on either side of the Jordanian-Israeli border at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, an inlet of the Red Sea.
One U.S. counterterrorism official told FOX News that there is "always a general caution in that area, but nothing to suggest an attack of this nature was in the pipeline."
The official said it's not clear if there is a link between Friday's attack and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, "but that is an angle they would certainly pursue."
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (search) said that he also doubted there was any connection between the attacks and the Gaza pullout but pointed suspicion to another nearby Mideast state.
"I will bet you that there is some Syria involvement in here somewhere,” Eagleburger told FOX News. "Jordan is relatively neutral in all of this. I don’t hold the Jordanians responsible."
Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia told FOX News that anti-terrorist activity has been as visible in Jordan lately as in Saudi Arabia where the government has been conducting a massive crackdown on extremist militants.
"It's a test for Jordanian security forces to hunt these people down," said Jordan. “An attack like this is always a wake up call. I think we’ll see a very aggressive Jordanian response.”
Israeli police and witnesses said a Katyusha rocket fired from Jordan slammed into a taxi traveling near the airport in Eilat, but did not explode.
"I heard a noise, the car shook, and I kept driving for two more meters [yards]," said Israeli cab driver Meir Farhan, 40, who suffered mild wounds. "I didn't realize what it was. When I went out of the car, I saw a hole in the ground on the asphalt."
The rocket left a small crater in the road about 15 yards from the Eilat airport fence, said local police commander Avi Azulin.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking in southern Israel, said the attacks were "intended to hit the Israeli side and the Jordanian side as well."
Jordan, which is home to 1.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and Israel signed a 1994 peace deal.
The Katyusha rocket, dozens of which have been fired from southern Lebanon into Israel in the past few decades, is based on a World War II Soviet design and is generally not considered a sophisticated weapon.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge, Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.