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Friday, November 21, 2003

First Al Qaida attack on Israel escapes widespread notice

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
The Jordanian gunman who cut down a group of Ecuadorian pilgrims with automatic gunfire at the border crossing from Jordan to Israel north of Eilat on Wednesday, November 19, did much more than shatter the calm of a border terminal normally bustling with goods, tourist and business traffic between the Jewish state and Hashemite kingdom. The assault dashed any illusions about Osama bin Laden holding off from drawing blood in Israel. Five of the pilgrims were injured – one later died of her wounds - as they prepared to cross into Jordan, victims of al Qaeda’s first direct strike inside Israel.

The attack bore the fingerprints of Abu Musab Zarqawi, believed to be Al Qaeda’s top terror “contractor.”

A spokesman in Amman insisted the gunman acted on his own. His acknowledgement that the killer hailed from the Zarka area in the north of the kingdom let the cat out of the bag. According to DEBKAfile’s counter-terrorism sources, Zarqawi and Al Qaeda run a strong and well organized terrorist network out of the Zarqa area, Zarqawi’s home ground. It is hardly plausible that the gunman was not part of this setup.

Jordan’s King Abdullah is beset with trouble - no matter which way he looks In Saudi Arabia to the south, the government is reeling from a wave of Al Qaeda bombings. To the east in Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s guerrillas, aided by Arab fighters that include members of Al Qaeda, carry out daily attacks against US occupation forces. In Israel to the west, an Israeli-Palestinian war continues unabated. And Arab fighters continue to use Syria, to the north of Jordan, as their primary transit route into Iraq.

Nonetheless, up until the Eilat attack, Jordan had looked like an oasis of calm – thanks to the effective blackout the Jordanians and Americans have imposed on news of terrorist activities in the country.

But something was seriously amiss in the kingdom of the Hashemites. DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counter-intelligence sources have learned that US forces found a list of 120 Jordanians who were either on their way to fight Americans in the Sunni Triangle or already in place. The lists were turned up in recently mounted raids in the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Fallujah.

Washington handed the roster to king Abdullah, who was profoundly shocked.

Continued . . .
See also the Jerusalem Post: "Source: Al Qaida behind Eilat border attack."