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Series Of Blasts In Jordan Kill Many

Aired November 9, 2005 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kyra, to our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: terror in Jordan. Three hotels bombed. It's 11:00 p.m. in Amman, where simultaneous explosions hit three major hotels. Authorities report many dead and wounded. The Grand Hyatt, the Radisson and the Days Inn, all familiar names to Americans, and popular with tourists and diplomats visiting Jordan.

Were Americans targeted? And who's behind the bombings? Could it be al Qaeda, or al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, a native of Jordan?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking news: terror in Jordan. The Associated Press now reporting 23 dead in Jordan in a series of explosions. Apparently suicide bombers entered these three hotels in the Jordanian capital of Amman and blew themselves up. We're getting specific details. Let's check in with our national security correspondent, David Ensor.

What are you picking up, David?


BLITZER: All right, hold on, David, because I think we have a problem with your audio. We're going to try to reconnect with David Ensor and make sure we can hear what he's saying. David, stand by.

Once again, the Associated Press reporting 23 people are now confirmed dead in the series of explosions, dozens of others killed in these three hotels in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

All of our reporters -- on the scene in Jordan, here in Washington, elsewhere -- continuing to try to pick up fragments of information.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, is here in Washington. Kelli, what are you picking up?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if the reports are true -- and we do not have confirmation from the FBI that they are -- this did involve suicide bombers -- three individual suicide bombers -- which would be the first time that Jordan has experienced this type of an attack. Counterterrorism officials that I've spoken to say -- and intelligence officials that David Ensor has spoken to -- say that this does bear the hallmark of an attack that may have been coordinated by Abu Mussab al Zarqawi.

As you said, Wolf, he is a Jordanian national. He is believed to have a very strong terror network in operation in that country. Jordan has been the target of a series of attempted attacks over the past several years. It's been able to thwart many of them.

FBI at this point is waiting -- the FBI does need an invitation from Jordan to go on Jordanian soil to help out with the investigation. The agents that I spoke to fully anticipate that that request will come from Jordan, because this attack does involve U.S. interests. And when that request is made, a team of FBI agents will go there to supplement the Legal Attache's Office -- the FBI's Legal Attache Office -- that has been there for several years, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to go, Kelli, to some new video that we're getting in from one of those three hotels. This is video just coming in from Jordanian Television, I believe -- video showing the destruction in this hotel. I'm not sure if it's the Hyatt, the Radisson or the Days Inn, but you can see the destruction there. This looks like a ballroom.

There had been one report that I saw earlier saying there was a wedding going on at the Hyatt hotel. I'm not sure if this is the Hyatt or the Radisson. Clearly, a dining area has been destroyed by what some sources are suggesting was a suicide bomber who got very close to this luxury hotel in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Jordan being a very close ally of the United States in the Middle East.

The Jordanian king, King Abdullah, a frequent visitor to Washington a strong supporter -- a strong partner of President Bush and the U.S. government, as was his father, the late King Hussein of Jordan as well.

Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, is looking at these pictures together with all of us. New video coming in -- it looks, David, like it's extensive damage at that hotel there. What are you picking up from your source?

ENSOR: It's extensive damage, Wolf, though one intelligence officer I was speaking to earlier was saying it could have been a lot worse. This looks as if most of the damage was done from the outside. Though there are also reports that suitcases may or may not have been used. It could have been worse, is what one official said to me.

Though, as Kelli mentioned earlier, they are afraid that this may be a coordinated attack -- three locations -- does, in their view, probably bear the hallmarks of Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, the man who of course is now considered the al Qaeda leader in Iraq. They note that in recent months he has expressed an interest in attacking and launching attacks outside of Iraq. And the simultaneity of these attacks -- the organized way in which they were run -- Zarqawi, of course, a Jordanian himself. So he's kind of high on the suspect list, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David, stand by.

CNN's Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta, getting more information coming in. What are you picking up, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Jordanian News Agency is quoting Jordan's prime minister saying that all government offices and schools will be closed tomorrow. That's all information we're receiving. We're going to try and get you more information as it comes in.

As you know, Barbara Starr was saying earlier, that Jordan really is a country that operates on many different levels. There are Western business interests, as we've been discussing, as well as a significant Palestinian population. But what we're hearing now, that the prime minister is saying, that all government offices and schools in Jordan will be closed tomorrow -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Zain, stand by. We'll get back to you.

Kristen Gillespie is a CNN producer in Amman who is on the scene for us at the Hyatt hotel where that explosion occurred.

Kristen, what are you getting? Kristen, can you hear me?

Unfortunately, I don't think Kristen Gillespie, our CNN producer in Amman, can hear me right now. Maybe she can, but we can't hear her.

Here, you're seeing some of the new video that we're getting in, into CNN, of some of the destruction that's clearly happened at these hotels. Three hotels -- the Hyatt, the Radisson, Days Inn, U.S.-based chain hotels -- the target of what apparently were some sophisticated planning, some sophisticated devices. Looks like, at least according to some sources, suicide bombers. On the scene, in the Jordanian capital, a close ally of the United States.

Kelli Arena, are you getting more information?

ARENA: I wanted to point out that two of the three hotels -- the Hyatt and the Radisson -- were previous targets of al Qaeda. That was a plot that was disrupted, the so-called Millennium Plot, if you remember. And as many of the terrorism experts have pointed out, al Qaeda and its offshoot groups tend to go back to previous targets that they unable to hit. We saw that with the first and second World Trade Center bombings.

So, this is something, obviously, that investigators are going to look at, the fact that those two specific hotels were targeted before. They were hit this time, which is -- and, of course, the type of explosives that were used, primary, Wolf, in this investigation.

BLITZER: Kelly, there's no doubt, given the very close relationship between the United States and the government of Jordan, that there will be extensive collaboration, coordination, in the postmortem of what happened, between these two governments.

ARENA: Absolutely. The FBI has had an excellent relationship with Jordan over the years. There's no reason to think that that will change going forward, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Kelli, stand by.

Let's go out to CNN's Ken Robinson, our security analyst, who knows a great deal about counterterrorism. He's joining us from our Los Angeles bureau. It certainly looks like the fingerprints -- all the hallmarks of al Qaeda or an associated group of al Qaeda, especially the simultaneity of these attacks.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, it does, Wolf. It's ideologically-motivated group, likely a Sunni group. Likely a group aligned with a group like Zarqawi in Iraq -- may not be directly directed by someone like Zarqawi, but certainly all of them with the same goals: destabilize the Kingdom of -- the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and try to create set conditions to force Westerners out of the kingdom.

BLITZER: You've been to Amman, Jordan, I've been to Amman, Jordan. The Jordanian Security Services are very, very good. There's a clear presence there, wherever you go in Jordan, basically. You would think that they would have better security, though, at these kinds of Western-oriented hotels.

ROBINSON: You're right. General Faisal (ph), who we've met with many times, who runs Jordanian Security Services, does run a tight rein on that country. The problem in these Western hotels, a lot of times, are complaints from Westerners who don't like to be inconvenienced by the security searches, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ken, stand by. We're going to get back to you soon.

I want go over to the White House. Our correspondent, Dana Bash, is getting some information from officials there.

What they are saying, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the president, of course, as you can imagine, is being briefed as they get more information here about what went on in Jordan. Initially, we do have a statement from the National Security Council spokesman, Fred Jones, who says, "We strongly condemn what appears to be an act of terror." We are waiting for a more formal statement from the White House and expect that soon.

They obviously are watching, working the phones in the Situation Room here -- the original Situation Room -- in the White House, disbursing information that they are getting from their officials, the American officials on the ground at the embassy in Jordan. They're working to ascertain the facts. They say, at this point, they don't have any information about any American deaths, but again they caution that it is very early.

I just want to back up what we've been hearing form Kelli Arena and David Ensor. An official here says, in looking at this, like everyone else, that, quote, "the triangulation, the coordination and the signature of the attacks have the hallmarks of an al Qaeda attack." But again, this official cautioning that it is too early to tell with certainty.

But one other thing I can tell you, Wolf, is that, you know, Kelli was talking about the fact that there have been thwarted attacks in Jordan. Remember that in August, just a few months ago, there was actually an attack on the Port of Aqaba in Jordan. Rockets hit there and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi actually did claim credit for that, and that was just a couple of months ago. That is not lost on officials here at the White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Dana, thank you very much. Stand by.

We got some new pictures coming in from the Grand Hyatt hotel. These are pictures just coming in to CNN. You can see the ambulances, the emergency medical personnel, already on the scene.

It you've been to Amman, Jordan, if you've been to the city, you know it's a bustling city, very active. A lot of Westerners. Jordan, in many respects over the past 10, 15 years, has been a gateway to other places throughout the Middle East.

Certainly been a gateway in recent years since the war in Iraq to Baghdad itself. You can see the extensive damage that has been caused at the Grand Hyatt hotel. One of the three hotels clearly targeted by some sort of group, we assume an al Qaeda or associated group, but we're going to get some specific information. Apparently no one has yet formally claimed responsibility for these attacks.

Jonathan Finer is a reporter for The Washington Post. He's joining us on the phone from Amman. Jonathan, where exactly are you?

JONATHAN FINER, THE WASHINGTON POST (on phone): I'm in front of the Grand Hyatt, standing with a few hundred people who've been evacuated from the hotel and other people looking on at the damage.

BLITZER: Were you based, are you based in Amman? Or just there for a few days?

FINER: No, I'm based in Baghdad. I was on my way out of Iraq and spending the night in Amman, actually at a different hotel. Not one of the ones that was hit, when I heard the news of what had happened.

BLITZER: Well, tell our viewers in the United States and around the world, Jonathan, what you see right now.

FINER: Well, you can see the lobby of the Grand Hyatt is pretty well devastated. There's broken glass all over the streets. Earlier we saw people streaming out of some of the emergency exits of the hotel, some of whom had blood on their shirts, some of whom were walking with a limp and apparently injured.

A few appeared very frightened. The hotel staff had given most of the people blankets. It's getting fairly cold here this time of year. People are now gathered outside. Some confusion about where they're going to stay and what they're going to do at this point and obviously, some very frightened people as well. BLITZER: Jonathan, are they saying to you, authorities there or eyewitnesses, how they think these attacks or at least the one at the Grand Hyatt, where you are, was carried out?

FINER: They haven't gone so far as to say who carried out these attacks. But, there's plenty of speculation. There was an assistant to the speaker of the Parliament who was down here surveying the scene and he said, based on the coordination of the attack, the simultaneous attack in several locations, that it appears to be the work of a group like al Qaeda.

But, it's not anything official yet in terms of who has claimed responsibility or who's being blamed for the attack.

BLITZER: What have authorities said to you about casualties, dead and wounded?

FINER: Well, we've heard a range of numbers. Anywhere from between 15-and-20 dead and several dozen wounded to upwards of 50 dead and over 100 wounded. It's all very preliminary and it's too hard to tell. But, there are certainly, there have been a large number of people who have been hurt and killed by these attacks.

BLITZER: The numbers presumably will grow as the situation becomes clearer. What about the area around the Grand Hyatt hotel right now? Are people calm? Describe it a little bit to us.

FINER: Yes, people are very calm. They're sort of standing in the street, looking on. The police have closed down almost all of the main roads going into and out of that area, which makes it sort of hard for people to get anywhere, get out. But, we talked to a physician from Baghdad who said that this was par for the course in what he was used to, but that other people seem to have been more affected by it, understandably. But, for the most part, people seem to be remaining calm.

BLITZER: What about security in advance, in advance of these explosions? You've been there, I assume for a couple of days. What was it like?

FINER: I'm sorry, I missed your question.

BLITZER: The security before the explosions. When did you get to Amman from Baghdad?

FINER: I got to Amman this afternoon and security in the city compared to the hotels in Iraq is very light.

It certainly, it didn't appear to be a very hard target to hit. As people are so inclined. What a lot of police and other people are saying is that these hotels have been targeted in the past and that some of the attacks have been disrupted by Jordanian security forces.

But, at this time, they're actually successful in carrying it out. But it's not like you see metal detectors in front of the hotels, it's not like you see armed guards everywhere. There may well be more of a security presence than is visibly apparent, but it's certainly not obvious to the naked eye.

BLITZER: Are you getting any information, Jonathan, about the dead and the injured in terms of, are they local Jordanians? Are they foreign visitors? Were there Americans? Have you heard anything along those lines?

FINER: Again, it's too early to know that for sure. But, you'd have to speculate that there would be a significant number of foreigners who may well be among the dead and wounded, just based on the fact that these are hotels that tend to be favored by foreigners doing business or traveling through Amman. So, it would certainly not be surprising if there were a number of foreigners among the casualties.

BLITZER: All right, Jonathan Finer writes from The Washington Post. He's in Amman. Jonathan, we'd like to get back to you. Thank you very much for helping us get a better sense of what's going on.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM for a perspective. You're looking at these hotels where this occurred. Take us there, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To give us a general idea of what we're looking at. This is that part of the world that we're looking at. I'm going to move in and take a quick look at the general area of Amman and Jordan.

If we move in just a little bit, you can see that Jordan is situated right here, just to the east of Israel, south of Lebanon. If we move into Amman, here's Iraq over here, by the way. If you move into Amman proper, we get an idea of what we're talking about.

Big, sprawling city. If you go into the airport where some people might fly in, you'd be over here to the east side of town. There are several airports around the area. But from this area, if we look at the general view of the town as you move back to the general view of what we're talking about.

These are where two of the explosions are. We haven't located the third yet, precisely. There's one right there. The other one, not far from it. Take a look at the Hyatt here. It gives you an idea of the kind of major street that you're talking about. You know the town well, so you'd have a sense of what we're talking about. Major street right here.

The Hyatt is right there on the corner. You see an intersection here, how they come together. The Radisson, down the same street, not far, quarter mile, maybe half mile. Not that far down until you hit the Radisson, that's where that is.

Just for a point of reference, if you have been to the area, you might look at the U.S. embassy, which is also not that far away, right over here. So this is the area we're talking about. Right in the downtown area, on the same street, two of them. Trying to locate the third right now.

BLITZER: All right, that would be the Days Inn, the Hyatt, the Radisson, the Days Inn.

The Jordanian ambassador to the United States, Karim Kawar, is joining us on the phone right now.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. Our condolences. What are you hearing from your government back home in Amman?

KARIM KAWAR, JORDANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you, Wolf, for your sentiment. Unfortunately, this has come as a shock to all of us, as you can see from the images, the security forces have cordoned off those areas around the hotel. The paramedics are there dealing with the wounded and the numbers have been large as has been reported.

BLITZER: Do you have any specific, any official numbers yet that you're getting on the dead and the injured?

KAWAR: The numbers so far have been 18 casualties and 120 injured.

BLITZER: Eighteen dead, 120 injured. The Associated Press only moments ago increased that number now to 23 dead. Mr. Ambassador, talk a little bit about this, the signature, the hallmarks of this attack. What do you know specifically? Were they carried out by suicide bombers?

KAWAR: News coming out from Jordan that suicide bombers have been behind those attacks. It's very difficult to, well, to now declare who's behind it. No party has declared responsibility or claimed responsibility either.

But his majesty, the king, has issued a statement condemning those attacks and stating that Jordan will be resilient. We will be steadfast in the facing those challenges. We hope that Jordan will always be an oasis of peace in the desert of turmoil.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, were they carried out in vehicles, if they were, in fact, suicide bombers? Were vehicles used?

KAWAR: It's not clear at this moment, yet, because the investigation is under way.

BLITZER: Have these hotels, these three hotels, U.S.-based chain hotels, the Radisson, the Hyatt and the Days Inn, been previous targets of terror groups?

KAWAR: As you might have heard, Wolf, the Radisson SAS hotel was a target in the Millennium Plot in the year 2000. There was a plot on the New Year's celebration of that year, and that attack, or that plan was foiled by our security agencies. Of course, we try to be as vigilant as possible. But, at the end of the day, we're all vulnerable to such attacks.

BLITZER: The security situation in Amman is tight, but as we just heard from Jonathan Finer of the "Washington Post," with understandable reason, not as tight as it is around hotels in Baghdad. You do have a lot of foreign visitors to Jordan.

I think in 2004, last year, tourism alone reached the $1 billion mark in Jordan. It's very important that -- tourism for the Jordanian economy and presumably an attack like this is something that will dissuade tourists from visiting Jordan?

KAWAR: Well, we try to provide as secure an environment as possible, but given the explosive situation throughout the region, and we are there in the middle of all of what's happening in our area.

So, unfortunately, we have been victims this time but we, rest assured, that our security forces, of course, now as a reaction, will even raise our security level, and hopefully Jordan continues to be safer than other areas, and hopefully as we face this threat of terrorism by all modernizing countries that we can overcome it in due course.

BLITZER: I'm going to let you get back to work, Mr. Ambassador. One final question. What kind of contacts have you had with the U.S. government here in Washington since these terror attacks occurred?

KAWAR: Senior U.S. officials have contacted us, conveying their condolences and their sentiments, which is greatly appreciated, and we will be working closely, of course, in the investigation process as well.

BLITZER: With the U.S. government?


BLITZER: Karim Kawar is the Jordanian ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, good luck. Once again, our condolences to everyone in Jordan on what has occurred at these three western hotels. Karim Kawar, thank you.

KAWAR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Zain Verjee back at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She's getting more information. What are you getting, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, conflicting numbers on casualties. This is still in the early stages, and as we try and get a handle on this, what we can report is according to the Arab television channel Al-Jazeera, they're quoting the Defense Ministry of Jordan saying that 31 people are dead and 200 people have been injured. These are western hotels: the Hyatt, the Radisson, the Days Inn.

And as the "Washington Post" reporter on the scene indicated earlier, there could be a number of foreigners dead or wounded, and as you well know, Wolf, Jordan has become a drop-off point, really, for journalists coming in and out of Iraq.

Many western contractors also fly through Jordan, so -- and as you also indicated, a number of tourists as well. So what we are hearing of casualties from Al-Jazeera, quoting the Defense Ministry of Jordan, 31 people dead and 200 injured -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. That number presumably is going to be changing as we get more and more information, Zain. Thank you very much. John McLaughlin former acting director of the CIA is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. Richard Falkenrath, the former national security counsel adviser, also here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's talk a little bit about who may be behind this attack. You were an analyst at the CIA for many years. You've got this fragmentary information coming in. What do you think?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: At this point, you have to say the odds favor al Qaeda being behind this. It's a double header for them. On the one hand, they get to attack American hotels, important ones; and on the other hand, as everyone has said, Jordan is one of our most important allies.

King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to visit the White House after 9/11. So he stands out in this region as someone who has been -- and I can tell you, as an intelligent professional, someone who's been an extremely close partner in the war on terror.

BLITZER: Just as his father, the late King Hussein.

MCLAUGHLIN: Just as his father was. Everyone has talked so far about some of the signatures that point to al Qaeda. The Zarqawi connection is an interesting one to think about.

BLITZER: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Jordanian-born, al Qaeda's clearly number one man, terrorist number one in Iraq right now, but he's made no secret of his desire to try to destabilize his own homeland.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he has broad ambitions for the whole region Avant (ph) region, and actually for areas beyond that and he's operated successfully there before. You'll recall that it was his group of people chartered by him when he was in Iraq, before the Iraq war, responsible for the killing of an American diplomat, Lawrence Foley in Baghdad, or in Amman.

And he managed to slip in and out of Amman during that period, alluding one of the best intelligence services in the world. So there's a record there that he can go back to and probably has cells buried away in that country somewhere.

BLITZER: Let's go to Amman. Our producer, Kristen Gillespie is on the phone. Are you at the Hyatt, Kristen?

KRISTEN GILLESPIE, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, I am. I'm nearby. They've completely sealed off the area right now and aren't letting anybody close to the Hyatt.

BLITZER: So you're on that main street between the Hyatt and some of the other hotels there? Kristen? I think we just lost Kristen once again. Richard Falkenrath is still here with us. We were talking about the fingerprints, the signature. What do you think? RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's most likely an Islamist group. I don't know that it's al Qaeda, that is to say I don't know that it's commanded centrally by bin Laden or al- Zawahiri.

The pattern over the last four years has been groups that share al Qaeda's ideology, coming together for local operations and local attacks without really a mastermind behind it far away. And I think when the details come out, that's most likely what this will be. A small group came together for a relatively limited operation.

BLITZER: When you say a relatively limited operation, it looks like it's a pretty sophisticated operation, three attacks within a matter of minutes, almost simultaneous, designed and going against the three western hotels. It looks like a pretty sophisticated operation.

FALKENRATH: Well, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been three car bombs with 1,000 pounds of explosives rather than a backpack-size explosive. And Zarqawi, in fact, has been staging more catastrophic attacks in Iraq over the last couple years. For me, this may well be linked to him in some way or another, but it actually seems a little bit below his aspirations these days.

BLITZER: Below Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

FALKENRATH: Aspirations.

BLITZER: Aspirations. All right, hold on one second. We'll pick up that thought. Zain Verjee is getting some more information at the CNN Center. What are you getting, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, the three hotels as you know that were targeted, the Hyatt, the Radisson and Days Inn -- we're getting a statement now from one of those hotels. The official statement from the Hyatt reads, "we can confirm that there has been an explosion in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Amman. The hotel has been completely evacuated and local police have cordoned off the area, and they have assumed control of the hotel."

It goes on to read that "we cannot confirm the number of injuries at this time. The hotel's management team is working to assure the safety and relocation of Hyatt guests, all of whom have been evacuated." So some clarity there from the officials at the Hyatt hotel.

The Al-Jazeera news agency, the Arab television channel, was quoting the Defense Ministry of Jordan, Wolf, saying 31 people are dead, 200 are injured. As you know, it's still early stages and the numbers are conflicting. The Hyatt saying, though, that they cannot confirm the numbers injured at their hotel -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Zain, thank you very much.

And just to let viewers know, the Grand Hyatt in the Amman has 316 rooms, 17 suites. Beyond that, the Radisson, a little bit smaller, 260 rooms. And the Days Inn, the smallest of the three, built only in the year 2000, has 112 rooms in the Days Inn in Amman.

These are live pictures that you're seeing from Amman right now where security personnel, first responders, ambulance and others are on the scene dealing with these explosions.

Congressman Jim Saxton is joining us right now. Congressman, you're watching what's going on. You've been in touch with authorities. You're chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. What are you picking up?

REP. JIM SAXTON, (R-NJ), ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: Actually, I'm chairman of the Terrorism Subcommittee, but that's close enough. We're picking up that this does have, obviously, all the fingerprints of either al Qaeda or some other like group, that it was a very well- planned and carried out, and that it points out that, once again, like yesterday, this is more evidence of a worldwide system, a worldwide network of folks who are intent on attacking people, both Muslim people as well as non-Muslim people who don't agree with their brand of Islam.

BLITZER: Is there any indication in the briefings you've it, Congressman, that there was some advance word, advanced warning about these three attacks?

SAXTON: No, I don't believe anything that I've heard would lead me to that conclusion. I would say this, however: No one should be surprised. After the events of the last couple of years, and the last several months in particular, that have shown these kinds of organized attacks being carried out against soft targets, for the most part, and this attack was very much of the same nature as many of the ones that have been carried out throughout Europe, Australia and other parts of the world.

BLITZER: Congressman, hold on for one second. Zain Verjee at the CNN Center is getting some more details. What are you getting, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, we're hearing now from the deputy prime minister of Jordan that the biggest of the explosions happened at the Radisson hotel, and he also indicated that at the time of the explosion that there was a wedding going on, that the Radisson hotel in Amman, as we've mentioned previously, was the target of a plot prior to the millennium celebrations.

And that was broken up by Jordanian law enforcement. But we are hearing from the deputy prime minister of Jordan that the biggest explosion was, in fact, at the Radisson, and that there was a wedding party going on - Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thank you very much. It's always heartbreaking, Congressman Saxton, when you hear those kinds of specific detail, and we don't know specific numbers. We think several dozen people may have died and scores more may be injured in these attacks. In your conversations with State Department or other officials, Congressman, are you getting any details on numbers? JIM: We haven't had any details on numbers, but we continue to believe that the seriousness of these attacks, both in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, has continued to spiral, and that it is characteristic of the perpetrators of these attacks it that they look for civilians who pose soft targets. And they do so without remorse.

BLITZER: Congressman, we'll check back with you. Thanks for spending a few moments with us on this day. We're continuing our extensive coverage, breaking news in Amman Jordan. We've been doing this now for the past hour and a half, almost two hours.

Three explosions rocking three western hotels in the Jordanian capital, the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson hotel, the Days Inn Hotel. Reports that maybe 31 dead, 150 or so injured. It looks like suicide bombers. Kristen Gillespie is one of our producers on the scene in Amman.

Kristen, where are you now?

KRISTEN GILLESPIE, CNN PRODUCER: I'm standing right near the Grand Hyatt in downtown Amman.

BLITZER: And set the scene for us. Tell us what's going on.

GILLESPIE: What's going on is by now, there are hundreds of bystanders watching, trying to figure out what happened. The authorities have arrived, fire truck, ambulances, police, army. And now the area is sealed off. They're not letting anyone near it.

But minutes after the bomb exploded inside the lobby of the Hyatt, I saw ambulances coming. A dozen, within minutes, arrived on the scene and they had taken away at least five bodies that were killed.

BLITZER: And then from the Hyatt, there was an explosion at the Radisson and the Days Inn. Have had you a chance to get anywhere near those two other hotels?

GILLESPIE: We went down to the Radisson, which is actually about a quarter mile away from the Hyatt on the same road. By that point, they had sealed it off. What people at the scene told us is that there had been a suicide bomber inside, but we can't confirm that right now. The authorities, the police and military at the scene, were not commenting about what had happened.

BLITZER: But the assumption is that a suicide bomber with a backpack or a suitcase or whatever simply walked in and blew himself up?

GILLESPIE: Exactly. That's what people are saying. It happened this evening, Jordanian time about 9:00 p.m. The hotels are busy these days with foreigners and contractors coming in and out. And so it would probably be very easy for someone to slip in with a suitcase.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for a minute, Kristen. Zain Verjee's getting some more details on numbers. What are you getting, Zain?

VERJEE: The deputy prime minister of Jordan, Wolf, is now saying 53 people are dead as we're hearing on the scene. Emergency services are on the ground. Hospitals also very busy right now as we try and identify what exactly the casualties have been.

I'd just like to stress that at these early stages, it's difficult to know, and we at CNN receive conflicting information as we try and understand exactly what's transpired. But the deputy prime minister of Jordan is saying that 53 people are now dead -- Wolf?

BLITZER: No breakdown on the nationalities of those 53, at least not yet, right, Zain?

VERJEE: Right, we don't have a breakdown on that, but as our reporters on the ground have been indicating, that these were western hotels, the Hyatt, the Radisson, and the Days Inn. And it would be a safe bet to the assume there were numerous foreigners staying at those hotels.

And as you know, Jordan has become, since the war in Iraq, a drop-off points for a lot of journalists going in and out of the country. And western contractors also working in Iraq will go through Jordan and stay in Amman. So there could be a significant number of foreigners, either dead or wounded. But at this stage, we don't know the breakdown. What we do know, the latest information, the deputy prime minister of Jordan saying 53 people are dead -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Zain.

Christiane Amanpour is our chief international correspondent. She's joining us now live from London.

Christiane, I know a lot of the journalists, a lot of the contractors, a lot of the military personnel, when they go into Baghdad, they fly through Amman. There are daily flights on royal Jordanian airlines. Set scene a little bit for us. What are you picking up?

Unfortunately, I'm not hearing Christiane Amanpour. We'll try to reconnect with her and get her sense. John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Richard Falkenrath, former national security counsel, homeland security advisor, is here as well, 53 dead, scores wounded. These numbers presumably, John, are going to go up.

MCLAUGHLIN: I think so. And what we're seeing here, I think, to pick up on something Congressman Saxon said, is a continuation of a pattern that has been apparent for some time.

As Rich indicated, this may not be controlled by al Qaeda central, but we've had bombings in London with about the same casualties. We had the subsequent bombing, the latest on in Bali. We had the people picked up in Australia before they carried out some attacks in the last few days.

BLITZER: The raid that was apparently thwarted.

MCLAUGHLIN: The raid that was thwarted. So what we're seeing is a decentralization of the movement, possibly Zarqawi involved here. The operations don't have to be massive to make a point, but if they happen in various parts of the globe -- and here we've got -- we're spanning the globe.

We've got London, we've got Jordan, we've got Indonesia, we've got Australia. They're making their point through smaller operations, perhaps inspired by local group, but with some assistance from some of the larger guys in the business, such as Zarqawi and al Qaeda.

BLITZER: People are going to ask, Richard Falkenrath, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he's so wanted in Iraq right now. He must be on the run, he must be in hiding, just as Osama bin Laden and the number two of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. How can they organize anything when they're basically just trying to stay out of harm's way themselves, and they're on the lam?

FALKENRATH: Well, it's a good question, and a lot of people have asked that. I think most of his activity has been in Iraq, which is a much more chaotic environment. Jordan has a fairly effective police service, fairly effective intelligence service.

They've had a number of really important takedowns over the past couple years against incipient terrorist operations. I think he would have a much more difficult time operating in Jordan than he does in Iraq, which is so chaotic in certain parts of it.

BLITZER: You want to add that that?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, I was going to say, it's not that hard when you're talking about small groups of people, explosives that aren't that sophisticated, a society that is multiethnic, surrounded by Palestinian refugee camps and other places that are natural recruiting grounds and hiding grounds. We're not talking about moving massive armies, here. It's not that hard to carry out an operation like this.

BLITZER: The deputy minister of Jordan, Marwan Muasher, is joining us on the phone right now. Minister, thank you very much. And as I said to your ambassador here in Washington, our condolences to everyone in the Hashemite Kingdom. But tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what kind of specific information, Mr. Minister, you have. Who did this, how did it unfold, and how many casualties there are?

MARWAN MUASHER, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF JORDAN: Well, of course, the information is still coming now. We had three apparently suicide attacks on three major hotels in the country. The casualties so far is about 53 people dead, confirmed dead so far. The attacks were carried either by individuals wearing explosives on their belts, or in one instance, by a car who attempted to cross through the security barriers and could not, and exploded at the barrier.

BLITZER: Which barrier? Was that at one of the three hotels?

MUASHER: That's at one of the three hotels.

BLITZER: Which hotel?

MUASHER: At the Days inn.

BLITZER: At the Days Inn, there was a vehicle involved that tried to get close to the Days Inn, but it exploded outside the hotel, but still caused ex-tense damage. Is that right, Mr. Minister?

MUASHER: It's not as extensive Iran as in one of the other hotels, the Radisson, where apparently suicide bomber, you know, blew up himself inside the wedding party and that was the most damage.

BLITZER: And were there -- this was wedding party of Jordanians, I assume?

MUASHER: Are Jordanians. Yes, of course.

BLITZER: Are most of the casualties Jordanians or foreigners?

MUASHER: It looks so far that most of them are Jordanian, actually.

BLITZER: Most of Jordanians, and 53 you now say confirmed dead. How fearful are you, Minister, that that number is going to go up?

MUASHER: Well, of course, we are still waiting for the results to come in. Obviously, this is something that Jordan is not used to. We have been fortunate and lucky so far in avoiding these incidents. Our security services have done a great job at that. Obviously, we are not happy at what happened, and we are going to take whatever measures we can to, you know, to guard against these terrorist activities.

BLITZER: 53 confirmed dead. How many injured do you have confirmed at this point, Minister?

MUASHER: We have over 120 injured at this point.

BLITZER: Over 120. And they are in local hospitals?

MUASHER: They are in local hospitals, yes.

BLITZER: Was there any advance warning, any indication, any phone calls? Any indication that this was about to happen?

MUASHER: No. Of course, you know, we have been putting security measures at hotels for some time now. We have been expecting terrorist attacks to happen. You all remember the terrorist attack that happened in Aqaba a few months ago, where three rockets were launched and did not cause a lot of damage and ended up killing two people.

But this is the first really extensive attack we've had probably ever in the kingdom, and it's something we certainly are concerned about, but we also have the results to deal with it in the most effective manner.

BLITZER: The fact that these three hotels are U.S.-based hotels, the Days Inn, the Radisson, and the Hyatt, that will immediately suggest that whoever planned these attacks was targeting the United States as well as Jordan. Is that a fair assessment?

MUASHER: It is. Of course, it is premature to jump to conclusions, but so far from what looks, I think it's a fair assumption to make. But we need to wait for the final, of course, investigation to take place.

BLITZER: Has anyone claimed responsibility yet?

MUASHER: Not yet. Not yet. This all happened, you know, in the last hour and a half, and we have not had any group claiming responsibility so far.

BLITZER: The most famous Jordanian terrorist out there is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was born in Jordan, operates now, we assume, still out of Iraq. He's been implicated in other attacks, including on the American diplomat Foley, who was killed a few years back. There's been a lot of speculation that he or one of his groups may have been involved. What do you say?

MUASHER: Well, obviously, the prime suspect I cannot say for sure until the investigation is completed. al Qaeda and Abu al- Zarqawi were certainly involved in the rocket attacks in Aqaba a few months ago, and, you know, I'm positive he's a prime suspect in this case as well, but I cannot tell for sure.

BLITZER: That rocket attack, correct me if I'm wrong, was a rocket attack against a U.S. ship that was visiting the port of Aqaba at the time. Is that right?

MUASHER: That's right, yes.

BLITZER: So that, like this one, was going after an American target, in this particular case, a soft target like a hotel where many tourists and other Jordanians are attending, or at least were attending, the Jordanians, a wedding. Most of the casualties seem to be at that wedding party? Is that right, Mr. Minister?

MUASHER: Absolutely. I don't have an exact number, but most of the casualties occurred at that wedding party, and most of them, if not all, were Jordanian.

BLITZER: And what you're saying, just to recap for our viewers, is that a terrorist, suicide bomber, with a bomb apparently strapped on him, simply walked in to the hotel, and exploded himself?

MUASHER: Well, this is the initial reports. I cannot, you know, of course, confirm everything until -- because the reports are still coming in. But this is the initial report, yes.

BLITZER: What kind of cooperation will you be asking the United States government for, since these were three hotels owned by U.S. interests?

MUASHER; Well, we have always cooperated with intelligence, the community around the war, including cooperation with the United States on al Qaeda and on other terrorist groups. And I expect that we will continue to do so.

BLITZER: So right now, you're basically dealing with these three attacks. Given the history of al Qaeda, the simultaneity of these attacks, it seems to have that characteristic. But based on previous terrorist incidents, you always have to worry if there are others in the vicinity or others that might be still at large right now. I assume Jordanian security services now are operating to make sure that this is the end of this attack?

MUASHER: Absolutely. Everybody is on high alert. I'm speaking to you from the cabinet room where the cabinet is also meeting to make sure that every arrangement, security or otherwise, is made so that we make sure that this is the final attack.

BLITZER: Let me get back, and I'm going to let you go very soon, Minister, but the wedding party -- there has been some suggestion out there that maybe some prominent Jordanians were at the hotel. Do you have any information to suggest that that's the case?

MUASHER: No, I do not have anything so far. I'm not aware of any, you know, prominent people that were there or that were hit. But again, we don't have the full information yet.

BLITZER: Minister, thank you very much. Marwan Muasher is the deputy prime minister, a veteran diplomat in Jordan, someone who is on the scene. And we will check back with you, Minister. Once again, our condolences to everyone in Jordan for what has happened.

MUASHER: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thank you, Minister, very much.

Let's go to London. Christiane Amanpour is joining us. Christiane, what are you picking up?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is -- as many people are saying, that this is sadly one of those things that people thought was a matter of time. Look, we've seen thing going on now in the last several months or years, whether it be various Arab capitals, whether it be European capital.

The MO is the same. The suspects or the perpetrators are either al Qaeda or people who believe in the al Qaeda ideology. Jordan itself stands out in the Arab world as being one of the very close American allies. It stands out as being one of the only two countries in the Arab world that has relations with Israel.

It is not just next door to Iraq, but it has become de facto the center of business for people who cannot go and do business in Iraq. They're not just business people there, they're all sort of NGOs and Iraqi governmental organizations which have simply decamped from Baghdad and doing their work in Iraq.

And as you know, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and those terrorists there have targeted Iraqi ministers and all kinds of Iraqi infrastructure and diplomats dealing with Iraq. Whether or not this is the case in this instance is unclear, but Jordan has long been a potential target.

We saw an American warship was potentially targeted back in Aqaba. We saw just before the millennium there was a plot foiled which could have let to a potential chemical attack, and Jordan has long known that it has to watch out very, very carefully for. -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Christiane, the times that you've gone through Amman on your way to Baghdad or elsewhere in the region, talk a little about the security that you witness there. A lot of the security is invisible, clearly. And we know Jordanian security personnel are first rate, but what was it like?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, security in Jordan is what it is. We see it at the airport when we come back come in. There is, you know, a police presence. There is police at many of the hotels that we go to. Sometimes, you have to pass through a metal detector or a police search as you go through the front doors. But it's not like some of the dictatorships around the Arab world, where it is absolutely intrusive at all times.

Jordan has had a long cooperation in terms of its intelligence and military services, not just with the United States but with many of the western countries, and, indeed, with Israel and other countries around that area. They're very sophisticated.

As I say, they've thwarted various plots in the past and sometimes, as we've seen in many other capitals, including in London last summer, sometimes they get through. And these bear the same hallmarks as what happened in London. In London it was on the tube, here, it's in hotels, as it has been in other parts of the Middle East. This is what happened in Sharm al-Sheik several times.

BLITZER: The Jordanian deputy prime minister, Marwan Muasher, telling CNN just moments ago, Christiane, 53 confirmed dead at these three hotels, more than 120 people injured. Many of those dead attending a wedding at the Radisson Hotel, an especially sad element of this entire terror attack.

Unclear, he says, whether it's the work of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist, or al Qaeda, some sort of Osama bin Laden spin-off. All that very preliminary in this investigation. But Marwan Muasher, the deputy prime minister, saying at least in two of the cases, suicide bombers walked in to the hotels, strapped with bombs on their body and maybe a backpack. At the Days Inn, a vehicle was used to try to get as close to that Days Inn as possible, and that vehicle exploded. Go ahead, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Don't forget that in the last few weeks, we've had several messages from Zawahiri, the number two in al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's number two, who has continued to threaten that these attacks will continue. They have declared a global jihad on the United States and on all countries that support any kind of a policy or democracy such as the United States' and all countries that are in that region.

And this seems to be along the lines of what they constantly have threatened. And as I say, some messages from Zawahiri have been brought to light over the last several weeks saying that this is going to continue.

BLITZER: Good point, Christiane. Thank you very much, Christiane. We're going to get back to you very soon. Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour reporting for us from London.

Zain Verjee is at the CNN Center in Atlanta getting more details. Zain, what are you getting?

VERJEE: We're getting a statement from the U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan's spokesman. He's issued this statement on the bombings in Amman. The secretary-general strongly condemns the terrorist bombings in the Jordanian capital. He sends his condolences to the families of the bereaved and to the people and the government of Jordan.

Kofi Annan is on a tour right now, Wolf, of the Middle East that started in Egypt. He's now in Saudi Arabia. The statement goes on to read, during his current tour of the Middle East, the secretary- general has taken every opportunity to underscore the need for collective action against terrorism.

The people of this region, it says, have particularly suffered from this scourge. In meetings today and yesterday with Saudi and Egyptian authorities, the secretary-general stressed the need for member states to adopt a comprehensive convention against terrorism as soon as possible -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Zain. We're also getting a statement in from Days Inn, one of the hotels targeted in these series of attacks in Amman, Jordan. A spokeswoman for Days Inn saying, "We deplore this terrible tragedy. Our attention is focused exclusively on the health and safety of the hotel guests, employees, and owners. We are committed to cooperating with all authorities in Jordan and the United States who are involved in the response." That from Days Inn Worldwide in Parsippany, New Jersey.

That statement coming in, 112 rooms at the Days Inn in Amman, that was built in 2000. Hassan Fattah, the Middle East correspondent for the "New York Times" is joining us. You've covered this part of the world, Hassan, for a long time. Where are you now?

HASSAN FATTAH, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I'm just on the outskirts of Amman right now, headed in towards of the scenes of the bombs themselves.

BLITZER: What are you picking up, Hassan? We have heard from Marwan Muasher, the deputy prime minister, 53 dead, more than 120 injured in these three attacks on these three western hotels. FATTAH: Well, certainly, this probably one of the largest terrorist acts of its kind in Jordan, certainly shaking the fragile stability of this country that for so long has managed to maintain, actually, a unique sense of security and stability despite all the problems surrounding it.

Of course, we know about the missile attack that happened in the summer that really shook that sense of stability. And in many ways, were seen as a kind of a warning in those days, that, in fact, al Qaeda's there, that al Qaeda's ready to take action. And perhaps this is an extension of that. We won't know for some time to come, of course.

BLITZER: Do you remember Hassan -- and I read it, but I don't remember --in that last statement that was written, that was prepared by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, you know, the statement that Ayman al- Zawahiri, the number two al Qaeda operative, the deputy to Osama bin Laden, whether they specifically mentioned attack against Jordan?

FATTAH: Well certainly, Jordan been targeted before. It's not a surprise that this happened, per se. It's not a surprise that Jordan is targeted, per se. Jordan has a very large community, but at the same time, it has also been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the occupation of Iraq with material and construction and all that sort of thing coming through here as well as because the hotels themselves have been filled by conferences and by people coming through, either into Iraq or out of Iraq.

In a way, Jordan has this unusual mix, in fact, of members of the former regime in Iraq as well as people who have escaped the violence of Iraq, as well. At the same time, we also know that al Qaeda has actually targeted many, many different locations here over the past several years.

BLITZER: Hassan Fattah, we're going to check back with you. Thank you very much. Hassan Fattah's in Amman right now. We're going to check back with him. He writes for "The New York Times."

John McLaughlin is still here, Richard Falkenrath in THE SITUATION ROOM. You know, it's very interesting that the governments of Jordan, all the governments over the past decades, very supportive of the United States, very close allies of the United States. But what about the rank and file people on the streets? They may not necessarily be all that much support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and other policies.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's true, Wolf. The king's power base is in the military and in a small portion of the Jordanian tribal structure. So there are portions of the country that are not at all supportive of the king, and there are portions of the country that harbor extremists.

And, of course, out of the population of 5 million, some sizable number are Palestinian refugees who've been there for years and years. Some of them integrated, some still harboring many resentments out of that conflict and directing a lot of their hostility toward the United States, but also toward the king, who has relations with Israel. So there's that -- this is a society that looks stable on the surface and has been stable, but there's a lot of ferment underneath the surface.

BLITZER: Stand by, gentlemen, for a minute, because I want to take a quick commercial break. We're continuing our coverage. Three U.S.-owned, operated hotels in Amman, Jordan, a close ally of the United States, come under attack, 53 people confirmed dead, 120 injured. We're staying on top of this story. Much more from THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: The Jordanian ambassador says he's simply shocked at the unexpected attack. Here's what we know right now. The three blasts happened almost simultaneously at three hotels in Amman, Jordan, the Radisson Hotel, Days Inn, and the Grand Hyatt.

With so much chaos, it's difficult to say just how many people are dead. But the deputy prime minister has just told us here at CNN at least 50 people are now confirmed dead. At least 120 people are now confirmed injured. Those numbers will change.

We do not know if or how many of those are Americans or other foreigners. We do know that many of the dead were at a wedding reception at the Radisson hotel in Amman. Officials think the bombings may have been carried out by suicide bombers, perhaps with bombs and suitcases that were strapped to their bodies.

Let's go to CNN's Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She's getting more details -- Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, the Jordanian speaker of the house said just moments ago on an interview with the Arab television channel Al- Jazeera that al Qaeda could be responsible for these attacks. We've heard over and over again from terror experts, saying that these attacks bear the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

But the Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister, Marwan Muasher, that just spoke to you moments ago said that they don't know who is responsible. There has been no claim of responsibility.


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