Jordanian militant Abu Musab al Zarqawi is the prime suspect in a triple bomb attack that killed at least 67 people in Amman. We speak with Italian writer Loretta Napoleoni, author of "Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation." [includes rush transcript]
At least 67 people have died in Jordan after three near-simultaneous suicide attacks targeted hotels in the capital of Amman on Wednesday night. As many as 300 people were wounded.
At the Radisson Hotel, a suicide bomber entered a wedding reception in the hotel ballroom and blew himself up. Also targeted were the Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels.
The Jordanian government has ordered shut all schools and public offices and a day of national mourning has been declared for the victims.
Until now Amman had been considered one of the safest capitals in the Middle East. Its city’s luxury hotels are often used by Americans working in Iraq including government officials, private contractors and journalists.
Jordan is also close ally to Washington. Last year the U.S. gave Jordan $1.1 billion in aid. Jordan is also one of only three Arab states with diplomatic ties to Israel.
The group Al Qaeda in Iraq–which is led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi–has claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement posted on the internet, the group said, "Some hotels were chosen which the Jordanian despot had turned into a backyard for the enemies of the faith, the Jews and crusaders."
U.S. and Jordanian officials have also suggested Zarqawi may have masterminded the attack. Zarqawi was born just outside of Amman and has been accused of carrying out other attacks in Jordan. The United States has put a $25 million bounty on his head.
- Loretta Napoleoni, Italian economist and writer. She is the author of several books including "Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation" and "Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks."
- See website: Lorettanapoleoni.com
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined here in our New York studio by Italian journalist and economist, Loretta Napoleoni. She is the author of Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation and Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks. Welcome to Democracy Now!
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Thank you for inviting me.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you explain to us what we understand at this point about what happened yesterday in Amman?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, there was three attacks carried out by suicide bombers. And that gave us a clear indication that it was Al Zarqawi involved. Now, let’s not forget, Al Zarqawi was born in Jordan in the city of Zarqa, which is an industrial city. He’s from a working class background, and he has specialized himself in suicide missions.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how he ended up in Iraq and how far back the connection goes?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, he was born in Zarqa in 1966. When he was a teenager, he became a sort of bully. In fact, he was arrested for sexual assault. And he spent a short time in prison. It’s there that he became fascinated with the Mujahidin. So he did go to Afghanistan but too late to join the anti-Soviet Jihad. He actually arrived there in the spring of '89. What was very important for him in Afghanistan was to meet Al-Maqrizi, which was a radical Salafi thinker. And he introduced him to radical Salafism, which is a doctrine that wants the complete destruction of the Arab state. They went back to Zarqa, and they were arrested. And there, they spent five years in jail, where it's thought that radicalization took place. It was at that time that he decided that when he was freed, he would go and join Khattab in Chechnya. He actually did not want to go to Afghanistan. So when he was released, he went to Pakistan and unfortunately could not reach Chechnya. So this is why he crossed over to Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan he met Osama bin Laden in 2000, early 2000, and he refused to join al-Qaeda. And the reason why he refused to join al-Qaeda is because he wanted to focus his fight to overthrow the Jordanian government. He was not interested in fighting Americans. So he rejected the offer, and he managed to get funded by the Taliban to set up a camp in Iraq, where he actually forged suicide bombers. They would go back to Jordan. So, you see, it’s always the suicide bomber is his most important tool. After the fall of the Taliban regime he crossed over to Iran, and he reached northern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, and from there he moved to Iraq. His idea was that by fighting Americans in Iraq it was a step forward to go back to Jordan and overthrow the Jordanian government.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this attack on the three hotels, most people associate them with America — I mean, Day’s Inn, the Hyatt and Radisson. It’s not the first time the Radisson has been targeted.
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yeah. It’s the second time, actually. The first time the Radisson was not attacked, because the plot, the so-called millennium plot, was foiled just a few months before. Now, Al Zarqawi was accused subsequently of masterminding the plot. But, in fact, there is no proof that he did.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, he wasn’t accused until after a trial that convicted a number of men. This was right after 2000, but before 2001. Then when September 11 rolled around, when the attacks happened here, that’s when they started — didn’t they then indict Zarqawi?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes. There was no mention at all in the first trial. He was not even in the list of the people involved. In the second trial, he was mentioned. And then eventually during the trial, his position moved up to be the guy who masterminded. It was part of a strategy of the Jordanian, the Americans, and also the Kurdish secret service to present Al Zarqawi as the new terror leader and the link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
AMY GOODMAN: In the run up to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations. It was February 5, 2003. In his speech, Powell mentioned Zarqawi by name and said there was a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.
COLIN POWELL: What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.
AMY GOODMAN: Then Secretary of State Colin Powell making his push for war at the U.N. on February 5, 2003. Now, since then, Powell has called that speech a stain on his career.
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes. Well, I think he’s correct. None of this information were actually true, in particular, the connection represented by Al Zarqawi between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Now, of course, the myth of this individual was created that day, because that day the entire world was presented with this new boogieman, with this new evil man. And that is true not only in the West, but also in the Muslim world. All of a sudden money start flowing to him, and also people start joining his insurgency in Iraq. So, in other words, we created this monster who now we can’t control.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is he?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, he’s in Iraq, for sure. He’s in Iraq. But we don’t know exactly where he is. He is in constant movement. In the Arab world he is considered a sort of Arab Zorro, the man that always outsmarts the coalition forces.
AMY GOODMAN: What is his relationship with Osama bin Laden?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, at the moment the relationship with Osama bin Laden is very good. Actually, when he started his insurgency in the summer 2003, he began a correspondence with Osama bin Laden. He wanted the backing of al-Qaeda, because he’s not a religious leader. He’s a foreigner in Iraq, so without that backing, he could not rally around himself the Sunni population. So through this correspondence he actually explained his strategy in Iraq and eventually after the battle of Fallujah, Osama bin Laden welcomed him as the emir, the prince, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Interestingly enough, he was never in Fallujah. He was always outside Fallujah.
AMY GOODMAN: What was his relationship with Saddam Hussein?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: None. Absolutely none. They hated each other. I mean, Saddam Hussein, of course, didn’t hate Al Zarqawi, because he didn’t even know he existed. But Al Zarqawi made several declarations whereby he presented Saddam Hussein as one of the Arab dictators. I mean, Saddam Hussein was also a secular dictator. These guys are religious. These guys want to reproduce the Caliphate; they want the Shariah law to rule their countries.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Loretta Napoleoni. She is author of Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation, wrote a previous book on the funding of the terror network.
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is the money coming from?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, the money comes from the Gulf primarily. We’re talking about the same people that used to fund al-Qaeda. In fact, in November 2004, in the famous declaration in which Osama bin Laden welcomed Al Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden suggested the sponsor to move the fund to Al Zarqawi. But also there are a lot of money hidden inside Iraq. Saddam Hussein did actually find various location whereby he hid large amount of funds. And these funds are available, not, of course, to Al Zarqawi, but to the Sunni insurgency.
And finally, they don’t need a lot of money. Suicide mission at the moment are at rock bottom prices. The cost is basically a cost of transportation from the border to the location of the attack plus the cost of the explosives. These people train themselves outside Iraq. Osama bin Laden actually calculated how expensive is the insurgency of Al Zarqawi. And it’s only 200,000 euros, which is roughly $250,000 per week. The United States is spending $1 billion per week.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Saudi Arabia? Where does it fit into this picture?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Saudi Arabia is participating in the funding. But, of course, we’re not talking about the Saudi government. We’re talking about the same group, the so-called Saudi middle class — bankers, traders, merchants — all were backing Osama bin Laden before. These are people that basically want to grow economically, but they can’t because they ran into the interests of the existing oligarchic elites who rule the country and Western corporation. So by funding the insurgency, they’re pushing towards a regime change, towards a new system whereby they will be in control. It’s always a struggle between the elites, of course.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those who say Zarqawi is a myth, created as an excuse, the link between 9/11 and Iraq?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Zarqawi is a myth. It was a myth initially. But today his activity are actually real. In other words, the myth has become reality. And this is because of the situation in Iraq. And above all, I think what is really dangerous is the spreading of the ideology. Al-Qaeda does not exist anymore, I mean, the so-called highly hierarchal armed organization that carried out 9/11. Al-Qaeda today is an ideology, it’s the only anti-imperialist ideology. We should call it al-Qaedaism, and Al Zarqawi is one of the icons, and we can’t deny that.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jordan, where we began with the triple attacks, nearly 70 people killed, 300 people wounded in these suicide bombings. What does Jordan represent to al-Qaeda?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, Jordan is one of the countries that recognize Israel, so that’s sufficient to present Jordan in a very dark way for the followers of al-Qaeda. It’s also a secular country, of course. It’s not so important in terms of the old tradition. See, Baghdad was the center of the Caliphate. I mean, the Caliphate of Baghdad in the 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th centuries was the most important. So for them Baghdad represent — I mean, yes, there’s a certain symbolic value. But Jordan, of course, never did.
However, Al Zarqawi is from Jordan. This is his land. And all he wants to do is to transform this land into parts of the Caliphate. So, because Al Zarqawi, I think Jordan today is extremely important, extremely important. Plus it’s the gateway to Iraq, and it always was the gateway to Iraq, even when Saddam was in power. The majority of the trade that Iraq did with the Arab countries went through Jordan.
AMY GOODMAN: And Iran?
LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Iran, I think Iran is less important. I think al-Qaeda is not interested in Iran, at least not at the moment. I think what is happening in Iran, the way the West is now looking at Iran, this opposition towards Iran is very much part of a propaganda from the West, but also a propaganda from the Iranians. I mean, the declaration of the president of Iran that Israel should be wiped out of the map of the earth is part of that propaganda. I mean, I’m sure they don’t mean that. This is something that has been said before also in Iran. It’s simply that now we’re paying attention to it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us. Loretta Napoleoni is an Italian economist and writer. Her latest book is Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation. She wrote before that Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks.