Under the direction of Abu Musab al Zarqawi — a terrorist chemical-weapons expert who began operating in Iraq well before the U.S. invasion of that country — al Qaeda planned to launch its first weapons-of-mass-destruction attack last month in Jordan. The U.S. Embassy in Amman was one of the planned targets of the attack.
A televised confession by the terrorist allegedly responsible for carrying out the operation included information that closely tracks the testimony about Zarqawi and his operations in Iraq that Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.
According to the government of Jordan, the attack could have killed as many as 80,000.
In a series of sting operations culminating on April 20, Jordanian security forces arrested six terrorists involved in the plot and killed four others. Four of the alleged plotters made statements on video clips that were presented on Jordanian television last Monday, and U.S. authorities confirmed at least part of the plot to Western news agencies.
“We would agree with the Jordanians that it was a grave, serious and credible threat,” Justin Siberell, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Amman, told the Chicago Tribune. “The investigation is ongoing and it continues in the area of the specific capabilities of the [explosive] devices we are talking about.” Lisa Myers, chief investigative correspondent for NBC News, reported that U.S. officials confirmed the U.S. Embassy was one of the planned targets.
On April 26, Jordanian television ran a special 20-minute program, featuring clips of statements from four of the alleged plotters and showing images of trucks and materials that would have been used in the attacks. Among those featured in the report was Azmi al Jayousi, described as the leader of al Qaeda’s cell in Jordan.
“In Herat, [Afghanistan],” Jayousi told Jordanian TV, “I began training under Abu Musab [al Zarqawi] which involved high-level instruction in explosives and poisons. Then I promised my loyalty to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I agreed to work for him — no questions asked. When Afghanistan fell, I again met up with al-Zarqawi in Iraq.”
“There in Iraq,” said Jayousi, “I was told by Abu Musab to travel to Jordan with Muwaffaq Udwan. We were to get ready for a military action in Jordan.”
“When I arrived in Jordan, I met with another person with ties to Abu Musab by the name of Haytham Omar Ibrahim — a Syrian — who secured our safe houses,” said Jayousi.
“Next Muwaffiq and I began reconnaissance on the targets,” said Jayousi. “Then we began to gather chemicals needed to make explosives. . . . amassing almost 20 tons, which was sufficient for all our plans in Jordan. Then I began manufacturing.”
During this time, Zarqawi directed resources to Jayousi through Syria.
“I wrote to Abu Musab and I asked him to provide funding and needed papers,” said Jayousi. “Using couriers, he started to send funds in increments of $10,000 or $15,000. In total, I received about $170,000, with which I purchased a great amount of materials. Using couriers, he also sent me fake passports, ID cards, car registrations — and everything else I needed.”
One of Jayousi’s recruits was a Jordanian named Hussein Sharif, who also appeared in clips on the Jordanian TV report. “He [Jayousi] said he wanted to carry out an operation in Jordan that would strike at Jordan and the Hashemites [Jordan’s royal family], and against the crusaders and the faithless,” said Sharif. “He described this as al Qaeda’s first suicide chemical attack.”
“About 80,000 people would have died, with another 160,000 wounded,” said the narrator of the Jordanian report.
Jayousi remained defiant. “I intend to find the approval of God,” he told Jordanian TV. “If I die, I become a martyr. And those I kill will go to hell.”
In his speech at the UN, Secretary of State Powell said that after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Jayousi’s boss, Zarqawi, had found safe harbor in Iraq, where he received medical treatment and established a “base of operations” in Baghdad.