msnbc.com news services
updated 11/18/2005 3:34:54 PM ET 2005-11-18T20:34:54

The leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, said on Friday the group had not meant to blow up Muslims in deadly bomb attacks that have provoked an angry backlash in Jordan.

In an Internet audiotape, he warned Jordanians of more attacks and threatened a possible attempt on the life of King Abdullah, ruler of the key U.S. ally which is one of only two Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

“Your star is fading. You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off,” al-Zarqawi said, referring to the king.

Suicide bombings killed 59 people in Amman hotels last week, provoking outrage in Jordan despite the high level of support in the country for the activities of Jordanian-born Zarqawi in Iraq. Around 30 victims were Muslim Jordanians at wedding parties.

In Friday’s tape, posted on an Islamist Web site often used by insurgent groups in Iraq, Zarqawi defended the suicide blasts on three hotels saying al-Qaida had inside information that they were home to U.S., Israeli and Jordanian intelligence agencies.

“We ask God to have mercy on the Muslims, who we did not intend to target, even if they were in hotels which are centers of immorality,” the voice on the tape said.

It was not possible to verify the tape.

“The CIA is aware of the tape and we are looking into it,” a U.S. official said in Washington, adding that Zarqawi was worried about the angry Arab reaction to the latest attacks.

Intelligence agencies were intended targets
Al-Zarqawi accused the Jordanian government of hiding casualties among Israeli and American intelligence agents, and he insisted al-Qaida in Iraq was not targeting fellow Muslims.

“The idea that they blew up inside wedding ceremonies is a lie by the Jordanian regime ... The target was a meeting of intelligence agencies, but a roof collapsed on a wedding party from the blast,” he said. “Our target was halls being used by Zionist intelligence who were meeting there at the time. Our brothers knew their targets with great precision.”

“We want to assure you that ... you are more beloved to us than ourselves,” al-Zarqawi said, addressing Jordanians.

Al-Qaida in Iraq had already claimed responsibility for the blasts and named the attackers as four Iraqis, including a woman. She survived, confessing on Jordanian television last week that she had tried to blow herself up.

Al-Zarqawi told Jordanians to stay away from bases used by U.S. forces in Jordan; hotels and tourist sites in Amman, the Dead Sea and the southern resort of Aqaba; and embassies of governments participating in the war in Iraq — saying those areas would be targeted.

Witnesses told Jordanian security officials that the Radisson bomber talked his way into the wedding hall, watched it for a while, then jumped on a table in the hall to detonate his explosives.

Jordanians protest deadly attacks
Earlier Friday, thousands of flag-waving Jordanians thronged downtown Amman in the “March of the Nation,” a noisy, emphatic demonstration against the hotel attacks.

“Al-Zarqawi, you coward, what brought you here?” the angry crowd shouted.

“Cease, cease, al-Zarqawi, you are a villain!” the throng chanted. “Cease, Cease, you terrorist, you are a coward!”

A poll published in Jordan this week showed two-thirds of Jordanians had changed their views of al-Qaida for the worse.

“What we’re seeing is him (Zarqawi) going to great lengths to try to justify the selection of targets, in part because of the criticisms in the Muslim world,” a U.S. counter-terrorism official told Reuters.

Jordanian television reported that 100,000 people took part in the march; the estimate could not be independently verified.

The size of the crowd appeared to be much larger than protests last week in the days right after the bombings.

Palestinians refugees join protest
Friday’s marchers came from across Jordan in a show of solidarity in the demonstration organized by the Municipality of Amman.

“I came specifically to say to those terrorists and al-Zarqawi that we are all united against them. We do not want them on our land,” said Ghazi al-Hajjaj, 43, who traveled from Tafila, 115 miles south of Amman, to attend the rally.

Palestinians from Jordan’s 13 refugee camps also took part in the protest. The crowd of mostly men, many wearing Jordan’s distinct red-checkered keffiyeh around their necks, marched from the downtown Al-Husseini mosque following Friday prayers.

Rage against ‘son of Satan’
Soldiers stood watch along the streets as the marchers passed. Some men brought their families with them.

Aya Abu-Ghosh, 9, came with her father and siblings. “I came here to say to terror: Get out of our home. We don't want you. You scare us.”

Many demonstrators lifted photos of King Abdullah II and carried banners denouncing the attacks in general and al-Zarqawi in particular.

“Al-Zarqawi, you are the enemy of God,” one read.

The two-hour march concluded with a rally at a downtown square, where many dignitaries and Muslim and Christian clergymen addressed the crowd.

“The bombings of Amman proved that the bones of Jordan are harder and our unity is stronger,” said Monsignor Nabil Haddad, head of the Melkite Catholic community.

One speaker, who did not give his name but told the audience that he was a member of Bani Hassan, al-Zarqawi's tribe, recited a poem condemning terrorism.

“You terrorist, you are a traitor and whoever follows your ideology is also a traitor, too. Go to hell, you son of Satan,” he read.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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