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Jordan Probe Nets Several People

Jordanian police rounded up several people Saturday and uncovered the launcher used by militants to fire three Katyusha rockets a day earlier, narrowly missing a U.S. Navy ship docked in this Red Sea resort and striking Israel.

The most serious strike against the U.S. Navy since the USS Cole bombing in Yemen nearly five years ago killed a Jordanian soldier Friday, wounded another and sparked a massive nationwide manhunt for the culprits involved.

Two other rockets were fired toward Israel from the same warehouse, which is located in the hills on Aqaba's northern edge about 5 miles from the port. One fell short and hit the wall of a Jordanian military hospital and the other landed inside Israel close to Eilat airport, lightly wounding a taxi driver.

The rocket firings deepened concerns about new Islamic militant activity in a sleepy corner of the Middle East usually known for beach vacations and Israel-Arab peacemaking. The tourist resort of Aqaba, on Jordan's tiny strip of coastline, is wedged next to Israel at the northern end of the Red Sea.

Jordan's Interior Minister Awni Yirfas told The Associated Press on Saturday that security forces found the launcher that was used to fire the three rockets.

"We have found the rocket launcher in the warehouse from where they fired," Yirfas said in what marked one of the first key breakthroughs in the investigation.

"The investigation is still underway and issues related to it will remain secret so it would not harm the process," Yirfas said. "I cannot give you the names or say if we are looking for the perpetrators in the desert or any other place."

Jordanian security forces are hunting for six people, including one Syrian and several Egyptians and Iraqis, some of who rented the warehouse several days ago and possibly escaped in a vehicle with Kuwaiti license plates after firing the rockets.

A Jordanian security official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said an unspecified number of Jordanians and people of Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian nationalities had been detained Saturday and Friday as part of the probe, but he did not say that they were suspected of carrying out the attacks.

Mystery also surrounds the source of the rockets, several thousand of which are believed to be in the possession of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim militant group, Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria.

Jordanian officials have not yet commented on where they think the rockets originated nor who might have provided them.

An Al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said in an Internet statement that it staged the attack, but the claim could not be authenticated. The same group was among several militant organizations that claimed responsibility for terror bombings in three Egyptian Sinai Peninsula resorts during the past year, which killed around 100 people.

Rand Corporation Senior Political Scientist Nora Besahel is skeptical of the claim for now.

"It could be the actions of a small group of individuals that doesn't have great connections to larger terrorist groups, so we really will have to wait and see what the investigators find out," she told CBS Radio News. "The kinds of weapons that were used are very easily available on the international arms market, so that doesn't give us a great deal of insight as to who might be behind the attacks."

Jordan's King Abdullah II, who is in Russia on a state visit, condemned Friday's attacks.

"This criminal attack will not deter Jordan from carrying out the true message of Islam which terrorists are trying to distort," Abdullah said in a statement carried by the state-run Petra news agency.

Until last year, the Red Sea area including Egypt's Sinai, had seen no violence, but since October the area has seen a string of attacks. These include the Egyptian resort bombings in Sharm el-Sheik and Taba and a recent roadside bomb blast in the northern Sinai that targeted a vehicle belonging to the Multinational Force and Observers, which is helping monitor the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace deal.

One of Friday's rockets sailed over the USS Ashland's bow and hit a nearby Jordanian military warehouse that U.S. forces use to store goods bound for Iraq, killing one Jordanian soldier and wounding another. No Americans were injured.

The Ashland, an amphibious assault ship, had docked on Aug. 13 with the helicopter carrier USS Kearsarge at Aqaba's port for joint exercises with Jordan's military. Both vessels left after the attack as a precaution.

Despite the attacks, shopkeepers in Aqaba said it was business as usual on Saturday, with beaches and seaside cafes packed with foreigners and Jordanians and the resort's streets crowded. Hotels also reported no cancellations or early departures.

"Life is very normal. The cafe is full of foreign tourists who arrived early in the morning to swim," said kiosk owner Abdul Hakim Al-Abed, 40. "We didn't hear anything during the blast."

Investigators are looking into how three five-foot long Katyusha rockets entered Jordan, which has a strong security posture due to its vicinity to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. It has also been targeted previously by Islamic extremists.