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Angry Jordanians denounce bombing of 3 hotels in Amman

AMMAN, Jordan—Shock and sadness gave way to anger and calls for revenge Thursday as Jordanians cleaned up the debris from the city's first-ever suicide bombings.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attacks, which hit three crowded hotels in what had been a relative haven in a violence-plagued Middle East.

"Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" hundreds of angry demonstrators shouted, honking horns and waving Jordanian flags outside the Radisson SAS hotel, where one of the bombs turned a wedding into a bloodbath. Others shouted "Jordan First" from their cars as they passed through the city.

"We will cut the hand that is trying to shake our peaceful country," read one demonstrator's banner.

Officials announced that 59 people, including the three bombers, died in the explosions, which struck the Radisson, the Grand Hyatt and the Days Inn hotels shortly before 10 p.m. local time Wednesday.

A U.S. Embassy statement said that at least one American was among the dead and that at least two were wounded. Their identities weren't released.

"Anything that happens has two aspects, one good, one bad," said Salah Al-Sheikh, 35, an English teacher at an Amman public school. "An advantage of what happened is the unity you see now. The message to the criminals who did this is: If you wanted to divide the people, you won't succeed."

Jordan's King Abdullah had much the same message in a somber televised address to the nation. "We will pursue those criminals, and those who stand behind them, and we will reach them wherever they are," Abdullah said.

"I ask everyone in Jordan to consider themselves a soldier."

Earlier, Queen Rania wept as she visited the wounded in area hospitals.

Security was noticeably tighter throughout the city. Metal detectors were hurriedly erected at the entrances to the city's best hotels. At one hotel, no cars were allowed to approach closer than 200 feet. Bellhops were sent out to meet them with luggage carts to unload guests' bags.

Jordan, the most moderate Arab state in the Middle East, has long been a strong ally of the United States. Even so, Jordanians have grown weary of America's military presence in Iraq, and Iraqis' resistance to foreign occupation is often viewed as an act of Arab dignity and patriotism.

But there was no sympathy evident Thursday for Zarqawi, a Jordanian national, and his brand of bloody insurgency.

"What happened here is inhuman. Whoever did this is a coward. It was against innocent people. We were disgusted with what is happening in Iraq before this happened. This will not change anyone's opinion," said Montaha Safi, 43, a travel agent who closed up early as Amman's roads filled with cars cruising bumper to bumper in slow-moving protest convoys.

Many people interviewed said whoever perpetrated the bombings can't claim to have acted in the name of Islam because the religion doesn't condone attacks on innocent people.

Although Amman has been targeted in previously thwarted attacks, including one that was supposed to take place against Westerners on New Year's Eve six years ago, the explosions Wednesday were the city's first suicide bombings.

Foreign tourists cancelled plans to visit Jordan in the wake of the bombings, officials said—a hard blow that came just as the country's tourist industry was recovering from four years of depression linked to the Iraq war. But economists said long-term economic damage would depend on whether there were other attacks.

It was also unclear whether the bombings would diminish Amman's new role as a refuge in a troubled region for a wide variety of people, from military contractors and Syrian expatriates to affluent Iraqis fleeing the war. The city's role as a place to recharge and relax has given rise to a boom in the construction of luxury hotels and pricey stone villas.

Taher al-Alami, 34, a print shop owner, created the wedding invitations for his cousin Nadia al-Alami and her groom, Ashraf Da'af, who were getting married in the Radisson. He recalled the wedding getting off to a beautiful start. But before the couple could enter the ballroom, the bomber struck near the receiving line. The blast killed both Nadia's and Ashraf's fathers, along with other guests.

"We are very hurt. But we all have to be strong," he said. "We are all one people, one family, one heart. We are all people who belong to this land."

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(Matza reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Leila Fadel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20051110 Terror attack grid, 20051110 Jordan profile, 20051110 Zarqawi profile.

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