The Iraqi wife of a suicide bomber made a chilling confession on Jordanian state TV Sunday, saying she also tried to blow herself up during a hotel wedding reception last week but the explosives concealed under her denim dress failed to detonate.
Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, 35, made her statement hours after being arrested by authorities tipped off by an al-Qaida in Iraq claim that a husband-and-wife team participated in Wednesday’s bombings at three U.S.-based hotels. The attackers killed 57 other people at the Radisson SAS, Grand Hyatt and Days Inn hotels.
Al-Rishawi’s brother was once the right-hand man to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, said deputy premier Marwan Muasher. He said the brother, Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, was killed in the former terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq.
Officials believe al-Rishawi, who entered Jordan from Iraq on Nov. 5, may provide significant information about the operations of al-Zarqawi’s group, which claimed responsibility for the hotel bombings, Jordan’s deadliest terrorist attacks. The group said the attacks were retaliation for Jordan supporting the United States and other Western powers.
Al-Rishawi was shown on state television wearing a white head scarf, a buttoned, body-length dark denim dress, and belts packed with explosives and ball bearings.
‘He taught me how to use it’
Al-Rishawi said she and her husband, Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, 35, were wearing explosive-laden belts when they strolled into a Radisson ballroom where hundreds of guests, including children, were attending a Jordanian-Palestinian wedding reception.
“My husband wore a belt and put one on me. He taught me how to use it, how to pull the (primer cord) and operate it,” she said, wringing her hands.
“My husband detonated (his bomb). I tried to explode (my belt) but it wouldn’t. I left, people fled running and I left running with them.”
Muasher said al-Rishawi’s husband noticed her struggle and pushed her out of the ballroom in order not to attract attention before blowing himself up.
Muasher told CNN the belts were captured with her.
After a second showing of the tape, a TV announcer cited security officials as saying the woman gave no further details because “she was still suffering from the shock of the blasts and her subsequent arrest.”
Al-Rishawi was arrested Sunday morning at a “safe house” in the same Amman suburb where her husband and the other two bombers rented a furnished apartment, a top Jordanian security official said.
Authorities tipped off
Jordanian security was tipped off to her presence by al-Qaida in Iraq’s claim of a female bomber, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists. The group apparently assumed she was killed in the blasts.
“There were leads that more people had been involved, but it was not clear that it was a woman and we had no idea on her nationality,” the official said.
Al-Rishawi, who is from the volatile Anbar province town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, said on state TV that she entered Jordan from Iraq four days before the attacks with her husband and two other men using fake passports. She said they rode across the border in a white car with a driver and another passenger.
Taxis to the targets
“My husband arranged our trip from there, I don’t know,” she said, adding that they rented a furnished apartment in a middle-class suburb of western Amman. She said bombers took taxis to the hotels.
Jordan officials confirmed the three bombers were Iraqis. Al-Rishawi did not name the other two, but Jordanian authorities identified them as Rawad Jassem Mohammed Abed and Safaa Mohammed Ali, both 23.
Muasher said investigations showed no Jordanians were involved, but several local followers of al-Zarqawi have been arrested.
King Abdullah II told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “all Jordanians are unified, in that they want the people who are responsible for these crimes to be brought to justice.”
“If we know where they are, even if it’s beyond the borders of Jordan, we will give it the best shot possible to bring these people to justice,” he said.
Jordanian counterterrorism officials believe al-Rishawi could provide significant leads into al-Zarqawi’s whereabouts and his terrorist operations in Iraq.
But the officials, insisting on anonymity because of the sensitivity of their positions, also fear her capture may spur al-Zarqawi to avenge the arrest with more attacks in Jordan or against Jordanian interests abroad.
Al-Zarqawi, who traveled from militant training grounds in Afghanistan to Iraq before the U.S.-led 2003 war, has been sentenced to death in absentia here for terrorism-related crimes. He has vowed to topple the kingdom’s moderate Hashemite rulers. The U.S. government is offering a $25 million bounty for information leading to his capture.
Resident of Ramadi
Residents of Iraq’s Anbar province said al-Rishawi comes from a clan living mostly in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold about 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Ironically, the clan, known variously as the Burishas and the Rishawis, is known for its good ties with the Americans. Its members include Iraq’s defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, who visited Jordan on Sunday.
Al-Dulaimi offered Jordan his government’s support in the bombing probe and warned that unchecked violence in Iraq will spread terrorism across the region.
He also accused Syria of letting Islamic extremists train on its soil and enter Iraq to carry out terrorist attacks. The United States and Iraq have repeatedly called on Syria to lock down its borders and stop al-Qaida extremists from entering Iraq.
During a tour of the Radisson on Sunday, former President Clinton offered his support to “defeat this kind of destructive terror that murdered children and other innocents.”
Hotels were ‘easy targets’
Muasher said the hotels were chosen because they were “easy targets,” referring to the lax security before the attacks. Security measures have been increased.
The wedding was targeted because the bombers wanted to “inflict the biggest number of casualties and victims,” Muasher said. The security official said the Radisson also was targeted is because it is a favorite for Israeli tourists.
The bomb strapped to al-Rishawi’s husband was packed with the powerful plastic explosive RDX and ball bearings, and designed to kill as many people as possible, Muasher said.
The bombing has raised fears that al-Zarqawi’s terrorism campaign has gained enough momentum to spread throughout the region.
Despite the Iraqi involvement, Muasher insisted relations with its eastern neighbor are unlikely to suffer.
“It’s true that the terrorists are Iraqis, but this doesn’t mean that the Iraqi government is involved or condones such actions,” he said. “We all know that the (Iraqi) government suffers from this group.”