The last time Ashraf Daas and his new bride Nadia Alami saw their fathers alive was one of the happiest moments of their lives. They had just posed for wedding photos last Wednesday evening outside the Philadelphia ballroom of the Radisson SAS Hotel in the center of Amman, the capital of Jordan. Ashraf and Nadia were about to enter the ballroom, where 250 people waited to greet them. Mingling among the guests was a man who witnesses later said was in his 20s. A few minutes before 9 p.m., he detonated a suicide belt hidden under a jacket, turning the celebration into a scene of carnage. In the chaos, Daas's father lay motionless, bleeding from his mouth. His son tried to resuscitate him to no avail. The next day many of the wedding guests attended the funeral for Daas's father, held at a cemetery 20 minutes from the Radisson. Nadia's father was buried Saturday.
They were not the only mourners burying their dead in Amman last week. At almost the exact time on Wednesday, another suicide bomber blew himself up in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. A third bomber detonated just outside the entrance to a Days Inn; had he made it inside, he probably would have killed dozens of official visitors who were part of a delegation from China. The attacks left at least 57 people dead, making them the most devastating terrorist strikes in Jordan's history, and set off reverberations throughout the Middle East. Responsibility for the attacks was claimed in an Internet posting by Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who runs al-Qaeda's operations in Iraq. The posting asserted that all three bombers and a woman it claimed was part of the team were Iraqis. Jordanian officials said Saturday the bombers were all non-Jordanians but denied that a woman was involved. The message from al-Qaeda justified the attacks, saying the targets were chosen because they are frequented by foreigners en route to Iraq, which in al-Zarqawi's view makes such locales "centers for launching war on Islam." The attacks also represented a chilling milestone: if al-Zarqawi was indeed behind them, they would mark the first time his network has pulled off a major terrorist attack outside Iraq. Major General Rick Lynch, a coalition spokesman in Baghdad, said the bombings are "an indication of al-Qaeda in Iraq spreading across the region."
While insurgent sources in Iraq told TIME they had no prior knowledge of the Amman attacks, the fact that al-Zarqawi would strike Jordan wasn't surprising. U.S. military officials have viewed Jordan as an inevitable target for al-Zarqawi in his effort to export jihad outside Iraq. Jordan's King Abdullah II has longstanding ties to the U.S. (he went to junior high at the Eaglebrook School in Massachusetts and prep school at Deerfield Academy) and has quietly supported the U.S. war effort, despite its deep unpopularity with the Jordanian public. Jordan is a staging ground for the private contractors supplying and working with U.S. forces in Iraq. More crucially, it is where U.S. officers carry out what is, in Washington's eyes, one of the most vital tasks of the war: the training of new Iraqi military and security forces, whose viability is essential to the U.S.'s exit strategy in Iraq. "Jordan has been very, very close to us and a remarkable help in Iraq," says a senior U.S. military official.