It took weeks to lay the groundwork for my trip to Jordan, and within hours, I had the sense that all might not go as planned.
During the stopover in Paris, we had to overcome customary French "hospitality" and the indifference of Air France, finding our flight to Amman...just after the door of the plane was closed. After being harassed in 3 different languages, a reluctant Air France employee agreed to contact superiors about whether we might be allowed to board. We were on our way to Amman.
Amman is one of my favorite cities in the world. Parts are breathtaking, a mix of ancient and modern, welcoming of Westerners. Many signs are in both English and Arabic. It may be the city in which Arab and Western culture mix most comfortably. Many Jordanians are friendly and sophisticated, and unimpressed with the extremists who have hijacked their religion.
Perhaps naively, I did not feel any danger in Jordan, though the recent bombings there undoubtedly have changed the atmosphere.
In the early stages of research for this hour, we discovered there was one suicide bomber in Iraq who had once lived in America....a Jordanian named Raed Al-Banna. He is believed to have conducted the deadliest suicide bombing to date in Iraq - 130 Shiite killed by his car bomb in Hilla, Iraq on February 28, 2005.
I was determined that Al Banna be a focus of our reporting. His journey from Jordan to the US, back to Jordan and ultimately to Iraq would tell us much. How could he have gone from wanting to live in America to hating us so much he would give his life to kill our troops and their allies?
The challenge was getting his family in Jordan to agree to sit down for an interview. We asked our NBC News producer in Jordan, Moufaq Khatib, to contact the family. He said it would be impossible, that the Jordanian government had forbidden the family to speak with the media. We asked Moufaq to keep trying.
Al Banna's suicide attack had caused great embarrassment to Jordan's King Abdullah. After a Jordanian newspaper reported that the Al-Banna family held a party to celebrate Raed's martyrdom in Iraq, Iraqis in Hilla were outraged.
Nonetheless, approximately 10 days later, Moufaq called and said, much to his surprise, Mansour Al-Banna, the father of Raed, would agree to sit for an interview.
I arrived at Mr. Al-Banna's middle class home on the morning of July 7th. He showed me around his garden, which was full of a new type of grape vine that he developed. He called it the "Al-Banna Grape" and claimed he has been recognized by the Jordanian department of agriculture for creating an ideal grape for Jordanian growing conditions.
Mr. Al-Banna also showed us the room Raed lived in when he returned from America - before he went to Iraq. It looked like any young man's room. It had a computer, posters of fighter jets and some tourist souvenirs. Moufaq then pointed out some books that he said were about radical Islam.
The interviews with Mr. Al-Banna and his son Ahmed were conducted in Arabic with our producer, Moufaq, translating. The father was clearly still devastated by the death of his son. But Al Banna now insisted that his son did not die in a suicide attack in Hilla, but rather fighting American forces in Mosul, which happened to be the same storyline put out by the Jordanian government. Al Banna said he would have told his son not to go to Iraq. I kept pressing him on whether he nevertheless considered his son a "hero" and a "martyr." He avoided answering the question but finally said "yes, I am proud of him and even when he's dead I'm still proud of him." He also said a voice told him in a dream his son was a "martyr."
We later found out, through source in Jordan, that Jordanian intelligence agents had visited Mr. Al-Banna and told him to deny that his son was a suicide bomber and say he died fighting in Mosul. We also found out when we reviewed the tape that Mr. Al-Banna has whispered, "God curse this woman" during one of the pauses in the interview. Not a first.
Immediately after the interview Moufaq received a text message that the London bombings had occurred. We then turned on the television and, sitting alongside the father of a suicide bomber, proceeded to watch coverage of the London suicide bombings. He had no discernable reaction to what was unfolding on the screen.
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