Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
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Amman strikes at Bin Laden link

By Lola Keilani

The arrest of 14 suspected militants allegedly affiliated with the Afghanistan-based Saudi billionaire Osama Bin Laden in Jordan last week has led to security fears that Arab and Afghan militants are increasingly using the kingdom as a transit route to other countries in the region.

"Since 1990 the Jordanian authorities have identified a number of groups affiliated with Bin Laden operating in the kingdom," said a senior Jordanian official who asked not to be identified.

Last Wednesday the Jordanian authorities arrested 14 suspects who were allegedly planning terrorist attacks in the kingdom, announced Prime Minister Abdul-Ra'ouf Rawabdeh during an ordinary session of the lower house of the Jordanian parliament.

Rawabdeh said the suspects, 12 Jordanians, one Algerian and one Iraqi, had all received training in Afghanistan in the use of weaponry and explosives and were linked to Bin Laden. The Saudi dissident is wanted by the United States for alleged involvement in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 people.

Two other suspects involved were still at large outside the kingdom, officials said. The authorities have also seized forged Jordanian, Arab and foreign passports and stamps.

One of the Jordanian suspects, Khalil Deek, had been extradited on Thursday night to Jordan from Pakistan following his arrest in the Pakistani city Peshawar. Deek, who also holds a US passport and had been sought by the US authorities, was said by intelligence officials in Pakistan to have held several meetings with Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, officials in Amman said that Jordan had "completely thwarted the arrested group's plan at its initial stage, a plan which envisaged terrorist attacks against different Jordanian and non-Jordanian targets in the kingdom," one official said, adding that "the ring was funded in particular by Omar Abu Omar, also known as Abu Kutada, who is a right-hand man of Osama Bin Laden".

Abu Omar, a Jordanian citizen, entered Britain in the early 1990s on a false passport and has obtained political asylum there. He has been sentenced in absentia in Jordan for alleged involvement in the militant Reform and Confrontation group, which carried out a series of explosions in the country in 1998, including the bombing of several official cars.

A Jordanian official identified the alleged leader of the arrested Afghan-trained group as Khader Abu Ghoshar, who had earlier been jailed in Jordan in 1993 for allegedly plotting to carry out terrorist attacks, before being released under a royal amnesty. Abu Ghoshar is said to have received training in Afghanistan in the manufacture and handling of bombs.

Meanwhile, the United States has said that the arrests in Jordan of the alleged members of Bin Laden's organisation were linked to threats against US targets that were to be carried out in the new year. Both the British and the US embassies in Amman have warned their citizens in Jordan to remain vigilant.

An informed security official was quoted as saying that the arrested suspects had identified "the settlement of John the Baptist where Christians believe that Jesus was baptised on the Jordan River, Mount Nebo near Madaba, Jerash and Petra" as targets, adding that the group had targeted sites where celebrations of the New Millennium were expected to take place.

Thousands of tourists are expected to attend these celebrations.

Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Information Minister Ayman Majali said that the suspects would "be referred to the State Security Court for trial", adding that some of them had already served time in jail for involvement in earlier attacks.

Some observers, however, have questioned the charges, claiming that the arrests are best understood in the context of the Jordanian authorities' crackdown on the Palestinian militant group Hamas last month.

On this occasion, the Jordanian authorities deported three Hamas leaders, all of whom hold Jordanian nationality, to Qatar. The group of deported leaders included the head of the Hamas politburo in Jordan, Khaled Misha'al, who told an Egyptian Arabic weekly last Monday that efforts were underway to reach a settlement with the authorities in Amman that would allow the Hamas leaders at least to visit their families in Jordan -- if only on condition that they leave immediately afterwards.

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