Analysis / Another Al-Qaida Base of Operations

Although a group calling itself Abdullah Azzam Brigades, apparently linked to Al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for Friday's rocket attack in Aqaba, the Jordanians believe the organization may be of a different ilk.

"The firing of Katyusha rockets is not characteristic of what we know of Al-Qaida activity," a Jordanian government official told Haaretz.

"Their attacks choose an exact target and use accurate weapons that ensure success and a display," said the official. "Look at the attacks in Taba in October 2004 and the attack in Sharm el-Sheikh last month. The attack on the USS Cole off the shore of Yemen in October 2000 was also carried out with great accuracy and show, with a dinghy loaded with explosives.

"The group of terrorists arrested this month in Jordan was going to carry out an attack using gas canisters and chemicals, that is, an accurate and large-scale attack. The use of Katyushas might actually be characteristic of unorganized cells, with only minimal planning capability and irregular logistic ability."

Behind this description lurks the concern that the attack on Aqaba was carried out by a local Jordanian underground, and not necessarily by Al-Qaida. However, the Jordanian report that Egyptian and Iraqi nationals, along with a Syrian, were arrested undermines the Jordanian official's evaluation and raises concerns that Jordan, in spite of the excellent record of its intelligence forces, is becoming an arena for Al-Qaida operations.

From Jordan's perspective, the difference between these two terrorist elements impacts primarily on the means of combating them. Al-Qaida's goals in attacks like these are mainly anti-American, as opposed to local organizations, which want to harm the regime and threaten the stability, or at least the economy, of the country, its tourism or its foreign investments. To stop the latter, Jordan has to enlist local forces - tribal and religious.

This is not the first time local and foreign terrorists have operated in Jordan. In 2000, Jordan arrested terrorists from Syria seeking to operate against Israel from its territory. In the city of Ma'an, in southern Jordan, a few dozen religious activists have been arrested over the past three years, suspected of links to Al-Qaida or of smuggling weapons from Saudi Arabia. The murder of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley was also attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian citizen whose family still lives in Jordan.

But apparently Jordan's main concern is over the increase in the influence of terrorists operating in Iraq, because of the relative porousness of Jordan's borders.

The official crossings between Jordan and Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are closely monitored by the Jordanians, but the kingdom's long borders do not allow it to really stop illegal infiltration. Among its problems are tribal relations between the citizens of northern Saudi Arabia and Jordanians in the Ma'an area, which facilitate smuggling. In addition, groups of Syrians smuggling mainly drugs or Syrian laborers into Jordan apparently now have new "clients."

The main problem, which is not only Jordan's, is Iraq. Since the end of the war, Iraq has become the chief supplier of weapons and explosives to every gang. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition are smuggled from Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and thus Iraq has replaced the previous "exporter," Yemen. These weapons then make their way to other countries in the region, including Jordan and Egypt, thus solving an important logistics problem for the terror organizations.