AMMAN, Jordan – Islamic militants planned to detonate an explosion that would have sent a cloud of toxic chemicals across Jordan, causing death, blindness and sickness, a chemical expert testified in a military court Wednesday.
Col. Najeh al-Azam was giving evidence in the trial of 13 men who are alleged to have planned what would have been the world’s first chemical attack by the al-Qaida terror group. The accused include al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq, Abu-Musab Al-Zarqawi, and three other fugitives who are being tried in absentia.
Jordanian security services foiled the plot in April last year. Jordanian officials say that had it been carried out, thousands of people would have died.
Azam, a chemical expert at Jordan’s General Intelligence Department, testified that a large quantity of plastic containers seized from the defendants contained hydrogen peroxide. He said the accused planned to add “ground black cumin” to the concentrated solution, which would have made “an explosive substance stronger than TNT.”
“They sought to disperse poisonous gases which would have caused death, illnesses and blindness,” Azam testified.
He said his information was based on the steps to manufacture the chemical explosion as given in the confession of prime defendant Azmi al-Jayousi. Al-Jayousi has told the court his confession was extracted under duress.
Al-Azam said the defendants also had oxygen, sulfuric acid and nitroglycerin.
A consultant on weapons of mass destruction, Andy Oppenheimer of Jane’s Information Group, told The Associated Press that some of the substances identified in Wednesday’s hearing could be used in chemical weapons and were “extremely volatile.”
The indictment says al-Zarqawi intended that suicide bombers would detonate vehicles filled with the chemicals in an attack on the Amman headquarters of the intelligence department.
Jordanian security officials have said other potential targets were the prime minister’s office and the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. But the indictment does not mention these sites.
In his televised confession, Al-Jayousi said his group had plotted the chemical attack under instruction from al-Zarqawi. In an audiotape posted on the Internet in May 2004, a man who identified himself as al-Zarqawi acknowledged his group had been plotting an attack in Jordan but denied it involved chemicals.
If convicted, 12 of the defendants Â— including al-Zarqawi Â— could be sentenced to death. The 13th man is charged with the lesser crime of assisting two fugitives.