According to an Internet posting reported on Arab TV, the terrorist group al Qaeda in Iraq is claiming responsibility for Wednesday night's nearly simultaneous suicide bombs at three Amman, Jordan, hotels with well-known American names.
The bombs, which hit at about 9 p.m. at the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels, killed at least 57 people and wounded more than 115 other people.
"A group of lions of al Qaeda... launched a new attack on some of the dens in the land of the Muslims in Amman," says the Internet claim of responsiblity, which surfaced Thursday morning. The message says that despite security measures, "some al Qaeda soldiers were able to reach their targets and carry out their duties."
The statement is attributed to the spokesman for al Qaeda in Iraq, a group led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Its authenticity could not be immediately determined, but it appeared on a site routinely used by al Qaeda operatives.
CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports that al-Zarqawi has become Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant in Iraq, a mastermind of some of the deadliest violence the region has ever seen. His path towards terror started at a Jordanian prison. There he was first indoctrinated by militant extremists, which led to his alleged involvement in the 2002 killing of Lawrence Foley, then executive officer of US Aid in Amman, outside the official's home in Amman.
In February, U.S. intelligence indicated that Osama bin Laden was in contact with al-Zarqawi, enlisting him to conduct attacks outside of Iraq, noted another U.S. counterterrorism official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Jordan has arrested scores of Islamic militants for plotting to carry out attacks and has also sentenced many militants to death in absentia, including al-Zarqawi.
The bomb at the Radisson hit inside a wedding hall where 300 guests were celebrating. Black smoke rose into the night, and wounded victims stumbled from the hotels.
"We thought it was fireworks for the wedding but I saw people falling to the ground," said Ahmed, a wedding guest at the five-star Radisson who did not give his surname. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly."
A State Department official says so far there are no known American casualties.
The White House says President Bush "condemns in the strongest possible terms the vicious terrorist attacks against innocent civilians" and extends his condolences to King Abdullah and the people of Jordan.
The statement goes on to say that "Jordan is a close friend" of the U.S., which will offer "every possible form of cooperation in investigating these attacks and assisting in efforts to bring these terrorists to justice."
CBS Radio reporter Kristen Gillespie, who lives a block away from the hotels, was on the scene soon after the explosions. As bodies were being removed from the hotels, dozens of guests milled around,
At the wedding hall inside the Radisson, at least five people were killed and at least 20 others were injured.
The Radisson is popular with American and Israeli tourists and was a target of several foiled al Qaeda plots, including a conspiracy to attack U.S. and Israeli tourists during the kingdom's millennium celebrations. Israel's ambassador to Jordan, Yaakov Hadas, told Israel TV from Amman there were no reports of Israeli casualties.
The third explosion, at the Days Inn, happened after a car packed with explosives approached the hotel, according to deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher. He said the car could not cross a protective barrier so it detonated outside. As a result, the casualties at the Days Inn were not as extensive as at the other hotels.
The three hotels have security guards hired from a private Jordanian firm stationed in the reception areas. Each of the hotels has one or two police cars guarding the buildings around the clock.
King Abdullah II cut short his official visit to Kazakhstan in order to return home.
"The hand of justice," said the king, "will get to the criminals, who targeted innocent secure civilians with their cowardly acts."
Security was beefed up across the capital, especially around hotels and diplomatic missions, police said. Armed policemen and cars patrolled the streets, and Badran declared Thursday a national holiday — apparently in order to allow tightened security measures to take hold.
Jordanian authorities have foiled numerous attacks in the kingdom.
In July, prosecutors indicted five Jordanians in an alleged conspiracy to attack intelligence agents, tourists and hotels in Amman.
U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi and bin Laden's operations chief, Abu Zubaydah, were chief organizers of a foiled plot to bomb the Radisson SAS. The attack was to take place during millennium celebrations, but Jordanian authorities stopped it in late 1999. Abu Zubaydah was captured in 2002 in Pakistan.
In August, Iraq's al Qaeda wing claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that barely missed U.S. warships docked in the Jordanian port of Aqaba.
Editor's Note: In a previous version of this story, Laurence Foley was incorrectly identified in as a 'CIA station chief.' He was executive director of US Aid in Amman - but was accused in Al Qaeda propaganda of working for the CIA.