AMMAN (AFP) – Jordan foiled an Al-Qaeda chemical bomb plot against the intelligence services HQ using trucks packed with 20 tons of explosives that could have killed as many as 80,000 people, security officials said Monday.
Members of the network, who were arrested or killed, also planned attacks on the prime minister’s office and the US embassy in Amman, the officials said on state television but without giving details on those targets.
Several suspects, including Jordanian ringleader Azmi al-Jayussi who was recruited in Iraq, were shown shown on television which aired their confessions.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II said on April 13 that the security services had dismantled a “terror network”, thwarting plans by the group to commit “a crime never before seen in the kingdom” which would have killed thousands.
The television showed jerry cans said to contain chemicals, which officials did not name, and trucks “that the terrorists planned to load with 20 tons of chemical explosives in a suicide attack against the General Intelligence Department”.
“This operation, which would have been the largest in the history of the kingdom in terms of its volume and number of victims, would have killed 80,000 Jordanian citizens,” the report said.
Six members of the network were arrested and four others killed in a series of raids, the last of which took place April 20, security officials said.
“Terrorist Ahmad Fadel al-Khalayleh, nicknamed Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a prominent Qaeda leader, masterminded these operations,” one security official said.
Zarqawi, a fugitive Islamist sentenced to death here earlier this month for the October 2002 killing of a US diplomat, “decided that the first target shall be the General Intelligence Department” and recruited the operatives.
“Jayussi started to plan for the operation in Iraq where he had moved to from Afghanistan,” the official said.
“He received direct orders from his leader Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi (to whom) Jayussi had pledged allegiance and absolute obedience since he met him in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan,” he added.
In a taped testimony, Jayussi gave an account of his first encounter with Zarqawi in Herat, Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, and told of how he was trained by his mentor on the use of “explosives and strong poisons”.
Jayussi, wearing a blue shirt, appeared calm. His face was swollen, his thinning hair unkempt and he was unshaven. The index finger of his left hand was mutilated and he had a bloodied scratch on the other hand.
He said he met Zarqawi again in Iraq and was introduced to another of his Jordanian followers, Muwafaq Adwan, who was killed in a shootout with police in Amman on April 20.
“Abu Mussab ordered me to go to Jordan with Muwafaq. Our mission was to instigate military work in Jordan,” he added.
In Jordan he was aided by several Syrians sent by Zarqawi, including Haitham Omar Ibrahim who “arranged safe houses” for the pair, who then began to work to collect information on the targets and chemicals for the attacks.
“We managed to buy large quantities … We collected around 20 tons of chemicals, enough to carry out all the operations in Jordan,” Jayussi said, adding that he then started to build the bombs.
A member of the network also testified that Jayussi told him “the aim was to strike Jordan and the Hashemites (its ruling family), a war against crusaders and infidels”.
Jayussi detailed the plans of the operation, which included moving six vehicles loaded with explosives to an area of west Amman “six or seven minutes” away from the intelligence headquarters.
“Each car would have two or three men. A Caprice, with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) for those who will be hitting the barriers and killing the guards, would lead,” he said.
“After this the large MAN (truck) would smash into the gates, drive up to the central part of the department where it would explode,” he said, adding that the truck was fitted with reinforced fenders.
The television ran a computer simulation of the attack.
An expert cited in the programme said that the 20 tonnes of explosives would have caused “two explosions: a traditional one and a chemical in an area of two square kilometers (close to one square mile)”.
“The chemical explosion would lead to the emission of poisonous chemical gasses which would cause physical deformities and direct injuries to the lungs and eyesight.
“Outside this circle, the human loss would amount to around 80,000 people dead and 160,000 injured,” according to one of the experts.
Jayussi said he received 170,000 dollars from Zarqawi in instalments sent through messengers, mostly from Syria.
An 18-year-old Syrian, Anas Sheikh Amin, said in the report that he was trained in Afghanistan and told to go to Jordan to work under Jayussi.
Another arrested suspect, Ahmed Samir, testified he was trained in Iraq by a Zarqawi aide and that he worked on explosives for two months in a factory in Ramtha, near the Jordanian-Syrian border.