Jordan picks up the pieces after attack on convoy

A taxi driver is arrested and several suspects questioned after a roadside bomb attack against the envoys breaching state security.

AMMAN // Jordan said yesterday it was interrogating several suspects after a roadside bomb attack on a convoy of Israeli diplomats heading back to Tel Aviv. Nobody was injured in the attack on Thursday night as two cars carrying three diplomats travelled from Amman to the King Hussein Bridge, which connects Jordan to the West Bank.

Local media reported that security services had cordoned off the area and were questioning suspects. One taxi driver is believed to have been arrested in connection with the bombing. No group or person has claimed responsibility, but it has already sparked some concern that al Qa'eda was trying to extend its reach. For Jordan, which prides itself on vigilant security, especially for foreigners, it was a blow.

A senior security official said those behind the attacks were sending a message that they were capable of breaching Jordan's security. The country provides round-the-clock protection for foreign diplomats, and the convoy had its usual escorted of Jordanian officers. "The attack has exposed a security breach that enabled the attackers to accurately target the Israeli diplomatic convoy," said the official who was quoted in Alghad daily. "It is likely that there are parties with intelligence capabilities like Hamas or Hizbollah or Jihad movements or a group of men who operate under an unknown organisation.

"Al Qa'eda may have wanted to send a quick message to Jordan that it can target its security - in its desire to establish a presence that capitalises on the growing hatred towards Israelis." Jordan was the second country after Egypt to seal a peace treaty with the Jewish state, doing so in 1994, but public resentment over Israel's continued oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has strained relations.

"It was an attempted attack on Jordanian soil which is quite an unusual event compared to the surrounding countries," said Mouin Rabbani, a senior Middle East analyst based in Amman. "These people were at least able to attempt to hit a moving target which means that they appear to have had some information about when this convoy would be passing." It was the first time that a roadside bomb has been used in a suspected terror attack in Jordan. The explosion ripped through the right side of a curvy road cutting through hilly villages on the western outskirts of Amman, leaving a crater about one metre deep.

Suleiman Ghneimat, a retired military official, said the attack, although it did not cause any fatalities or damage, was a sign that Jordan needs to to step up its antiterror efforts. "The incident is a bad message for Jordan. This calls for more co-operation with all parties that are working to fight terror to put an end to those corrupt practices," he said. Last year, Jordan's state security court sentenced three citizens who it said were members of Hamas to up to five years in jail after convicting them of taking photos of the Israeli Embassy in Amman, including border posts along the Jordanian-Israeli border.

The botched attempt comes at a time when the country is dealing with the aftermath of a Jordanian suicide bomber who blew himself up at a US military base in Afghanistan two weeks ago killing seven CIA agents and his Jordanian handler. In 2005, al Qa'eda in Iraq said after its triple hotel blasts in Amman that one of the targets included a hotel known to be patronised by Israelis.