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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Explosions Rock Three Hotels in Amman, Jordan
Aired November 9, 2005 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: And I think that his influence remains pretty strong. After all, he only really left Jordan several years ago, first for Afghanistan, then Iran, Iraq. He had spent most of his life in Jordan.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Has not Jordan tired to remain somewhat neutral, not be intimately involved in the coalition activity there in Iraq? And, so, thereby, it would seem that might protect Jordan from Zarqawi or anyone else...
WHITFIELD: ... who is looking to...
WHITFIELD: ... dismantle or influence the Western influence in Iraq.
BERGEN: These guys think that, you know, the -- the -- the royal family of Jordan are, you know, apostates from Islam. They don't make any distinctions for them. The fact that Jordan enjoys warm relations with the United States is enough to make it -- to make it a target.
WHITFIELD: All right, Peter Bergen, terrorism analyst, thank you so much for being with us.
Of course, this information -- you know, lots of information just coming in, sporadically, as we're speaking.
The Associated Press is now reporting that police are indicating at least 18 people killed and 120 wounded in these three hotel blasts, taking place just a couple of hours ago, 8:00 -- just around 8:30 -- I'm sorry -- 8:50, local time there in Amman. And it's just after 11:00 p.m. there right now.
Peter, I'm sure, we will be referring to you again. So, don't go too far away -- Kyra.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Fred, as you were saying, just to bring folks up to date right now, as we continue to monster these live pictures coming to us, you can actually see all the people gathering in front of the Radisson Hotel there. And, of course, we talked about this area, a very popular area, where there are a number of U.S. hotels side by side.
And we're told that these explosions hit three of those hotels right there in the Jordanian capital -- at least 18 people, as you said, reported killed right now, about 120 wounded. Those numbers could change, as we continue to get more information in here to the CNN Center.
And, according to police, they were saying that the explosions happened one after the other. We even talked to a witness there on the ground who was at the Days Inn, saying that he was actually able to see some of the carnage. He actually saw some of the people that had been killed, various body parts -- not an easy piece of testimony to listen to -- but, right now, police saying that there could be even more casualties, as they continue to respond to these explosions that have taken place there in the -- in the Iraqi -- or in the Jordanian capital.
Now we're getting reports that, possibly, it looks like that -- now, we're saying that at least 30 were wounded in those hotel explosions. But, according to the Associated Press, they're -- they're saying that number could be as high as 120.
And I'm continuing to check in on updated wires here on the Associated Press, as, of course, our folks are working this story. We're also working Reuters, the Associated Press. As you know, we continue to get wire reports in, as stories are ongoing like this.
And I'm trying to look for new information here coming out of these hotels. We haven't been able to confirm how many people were injured in each hotel. But we are talking about the Radisson, the Hyatt and the Days Inn here in the capital. I'm not sure how many that have been injured or have been killed in each hotel. But, right now, the numbers are saying 18 dead. Possibly up to 120 have been injured.
We're looking here at a police source telling the Associated Press that the Radisson blast could have been caused by a bomb that was placed in a false ceiling -- no word on the cause of the Hyatt blast. But, right now, police sources telling the Associated Press that, possibly, one of those blasts caused by a bomb that was placed in a false ceiling -- other witnesses say that the structure of the Radisson seemed to be pretty intact, but there had also been extensive damage to the ceilings.
Other reports coming through various police sources to Reuters now, saying the explosion ripped through a banquet room, where about 250 people were attending a wedding reception, and that was at the hotel -- it looks like the Radisson Hotel, according to one witness, saying that an explosion took place where a wedding was happening there, at 200 -- 250 people attending that wedding.
Now, another explosion at the Hyatt, reports that that explosion may have taken place in the lobby. The Radisson, as you know, is very popular with Israeli tourists, according to police sources there -- but no confirmation of the nationality of any of the dead or wounded at this point.
Now, a quick overview of the three hotels which appear to have been targeted by the bombing. The Radisson Hotel has about 260 rooms. It was built in 1978. The Radisson was the target of a planned terror attack by an al Qaeda cell. It was part of what is sometimes referred to as the millennium plot. You might have remembered it was thwarted in late 1999.
And the Radisson was among multiple sites targeted in that scheme, including Los Angeles International Airport. Now, some basic information on the other two hotels. The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman was built in 1998. It has nine floors and 316 rooms. The Days Inn Hotel is the newest of those three hotels. It was built in 2000. It has 10 floors and 112 rooms.
So, that's a little background on the hotels, those three hotels in Amman, Jordan, where three explosions took place. And, as we continue to monitor the latest wires that are coming across, the Associated Press and Reuters, as, of course, our folks here at CNN International Desk are working information, that some police sources are telling Reuters and the Associated Press that -- that possibly the Radisson blast was caused by a bomb placed in a false ceiling -- not sure what happened at Hyatt.
But, at the Radisson, they believe it could have been in a false ceiling -- witnesses also saying that the Radisson Hotel looked pretty much intact, but there had been extensive damage to those ceilings. That explosion actually happened, according to witnesses, in a banquet room where there were about 250 people that were attending a wedding reception -- other sources saying, at the Hyatt, that that explosion appeared to have struck the lobby -- so, the Hyatt, possibly that explosion in the lobby.
The Radisson possibly -- was possibly in a banquet room where a wedding was taking place.
And, if you're just tuning in, we're talking about three explosions that happened, one after the other, in Amman, Jordan -- 18 people reported killed, possibly 120 injured at this point.
Fredricka Whitfield also working this story right inside our newsroom.
Fred, are you getting any more information or any details of these explosions?
WHITFIELD: Well, Kyra, let me give you an idea of the concentration of the hotels in the area that are involving, these three that we know of, the Hyatt, the Radisson, the Days Inn.
They are all in the same proximity as the Intercontinental, the Regency Palace, the Sheraton, Four Seasons, Le Meridien, Golden Tulip, Holiday Inn, Best Western, all hotels that are very familiar to Western travelers and tourists. I'm only mentioning those named hotels to give you an idea of the concentration of the hotel activity right down in the business district.
But, again, all we know right now is that these three explosions are being focused on, the Radisson, the Days Inn, as well as the Hyatt. Now, near the Radisson Hotel at time of the explosion was Dana Burde.
She's on the telephone with us now.
And, Dana, give us your account. What happened?
DANA BURDE, EYEWITNESS TO RADISSON HOTEL EXPLOSION: Well, I'm here with a conference group working on a refugee education project.
And we were sitting in the lobby when there was an enormous explosion. It was -- it seemed connected to the wedding party that you mentioned. And we were sort of blown out of the room. But our group is all fine. And -- but the wall caved in. I think it was actually inside the banquet hall, as far as I could tell.
And there was a lot of debris. And, certainly, there were people killed, and an enormous amount of ambulance and fire truck and military response pretty quickly right after. But we walked out of the hotel. And, then, it was probably five minute minutes later when we heard the explosion at the Hyatt, which is within eye -- eye distance. I mean, you can see it within sight.
WHITFIELD: OK, Dana, I know you're pretty shaken up. You have been through, you know, a very frightening incident here. How are you feeling right now?
BURDE: Oh, I'm -- I'm...
WHITFIELD: Were you injured at all physically?
BURDE: Excuse me?
WHITFIELD: Were you...
BURDE: Injured? No, no, no. No. One person who was close to the wedding party was -- he just got a cut on his leg. But our -- our group is fine. I'm fine.
No, it's -- obviously, it's disturbing.
WHITFIELD: Sure. Where are you visiting from?
BURDE: Well, I have been working in Afghanistan, actually. It's a little bit ironic to come to one of the cities that is supposed to be one of the calmest in the -- in the general -- in this -- in this region, I guess, and also considering that region as well.
BURDE: But I'm from New York.
WHITFIELD: OK. You're from New York.
Now -- and I realize you're probably on a cell phone. But you're coming in and out.
WHITFIELD: So, if you keep your -- your receiver close to your mouth as you speak.
Give me an idea of what your visit had been like leading up to this point, in terms of relations and -- and how you felt, you know, the -- the climate of activity was there. At any point, did you ever feel nervous or have any reason to feel for -- fear for your life there?
BURDE: No. I think Amman is very calm, generally.
But, also, I imagine there's increased tension here because there's enormous presence of U.S. contractors and probably military- related service support people and -- and, of course, journalists as well. So, there is a big American presence. And they concentrate in the expensive hotels, one of which I'm also in.
And, also, I have to say, you know, other organizations, international organizations as well, they have places like that, international NGOs. But I have felt very safe here. You can take taxis easily as a woman by yourself. It's not a problem, not like Afghanistan, where you don't take taxis. It wouldn't, you know -- you don't walk by yourself on the street, actually.
But I think it's hard to judge. I have only been here a few days. I really -- I know very little about Jordan. And I -- I know very little about the situation in Jordan.
WHITFIELD: Well, Dana Burde, I'm glad you're safe. And thanks for taking the time out to talk with us. And so sorry you had to go through something like this.
BURDE: Thanks a lot.
WHITFIELD: All right.
PHILLIPS: Well, if you're just tuning in, we're bringing you live pictures now out of Amman, Jordan. Three hotels have been rocked by explosions there in downtown Amman -- the Associated Press reporting at least 18 people killed, 120 people wounded.
The first blast happened, according to the AP, at the luxury Grand Hyatt, which is popular with a lot of tourists and diplomats. And, then, just a few minutes after that, there was an explosion at the Radisson Hotel. Then, a third blast rocked the Days Inn Hotel.
Our Hala Gorani is just between the Radisson and the Hyatt. She's joining us, again, via telephone.
Hala, have you been able to find out anything else to add to what we're following right now?
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
The way we're get information now, Fredricka, is through eyewitnesses. An Italian businessman walked out of the Grand Hyatt Hotel and said he heard the explosion, said that he left his room on the second floor and went through the lobby. And he said saw at least three lifeless bodies, wasn't able to confirm to us, obviously, there, if they were dead or simply injured.
He said he saw injured people hurt, a woman covered in blood scream: "I can't feel my fingers. I can't feel my fingers." To the best of his knowledge, this Italian businessman said that the blast happened in the lobby of the hotel, that, all around, there was shattered glass and smoke, but that nothing was on fire.
As you mentioned, there are two other hotels, apparently, the targets of explosions. We're not able to confirm yet if these explosions were bombs. But, certainly, it's starting to look like that's the case. The Jordanian interior minister was able to confirm to us that an explosion happened inside of the Radisson Hotel.
Also, one of our producers, our CNN producers at one of the local hospitals has said that he has estimated that more than 30 individuals were wounded, brought into the hospital, that there were also dead brought into that hospital. But we cannot confirm the number. I heard you there mention the wire from AP saying 18 killed.
This is a number that is going to be become clearer, of course, throughout the evening.
Last week, Fredricka, the Days Inn, witnesses confirmed to CNN hearing explosions and also seeing injured individuals. So, for -- to wrap this all up, it looks like these explosions all happened in and around 10:00 to 9:00 p.m. local. If that would be the case, these would be explosions that happened -- happened and occurred near simultaneously -- Fredricka.
PHILLIPS: Hala, is anything -- it's -- it's Kyra and Fred here with you.
PHILLIPS: Is -- can we talk about the timing of this?
Was any -- is -- has -- was there -- is there anything going on today or over the weekend, or could this be tied to any type of anniversary or significance of the date? Or do you think this was -- this -- I mean, what are sources telling you about, why today, why so many?
PHILLIPS: Yes? GORANI: Yes.
I'm trying to -- I'm trying to think of a significant date or an anniversary right now. And I -- I can't really think of one. What your witness there, Kyra, that you were speaking to mentioned was the large Western presence in Jordan.
As you may know, Jordan is really being seen now and being used as a gateway to Iraq. It's also perceived by some as an ally of the United States and the coalition in its effort in Iraq. Now, this is something that, perhaps, might make it the target of somebody that might want to harm Western interests in this country.
But, of course, now, all we're doing is speculating. However, if it's the case that these explosions all went off within a few minutes of each other in three hotels frequented by Westerners, it's the kind of conclusion that, perhaps, many are likely to come to in the coming hours -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: And, Hala, stay with us.
We're getting a -- a statement now from the White House, a spokesperson at the White House saying that: "We're monitoring the situation. We have embassy staff on the ground fanning out to ascertain the facts and to understand the whereabouts of American citizens."
The White House says that they do not know at this time of any U.S. casualties or fatalities. Of course, we have been reporting possibly 18 people dead, now, according to the Associated Press, up to 120 people injured -- the statement also saying that the White House plans to update this information as soon as they have more facts.
Hala Gorani, if you're still with me, have you been able to ascertain the whereabouts of -- of any American citizens? We, of course, talked to one woman that was there participating in this wedding from New York. Have you been able to talk to any other Americans or get any more information about this wedding that was evidently taking place in one of the hotels, and if, indeed, you have been able to come across any of these embassy staff members there on the ground?
What's going on now, Kyra, is that all these sites where the explosions have taken place and where witnesses and officials from the Jordanian government have confirmed that explosions have taken place are cordoned off.
Now, it is now 10:13 p.m. local time. According to the reports and the confirmation from the officials, these explosions took place about an hour-and-a-half ago. By the time we got there, we were being kept away. We were being told to stay away from the buildings, the fear being, in -- in -- in what some of the police officers were telling me, was: You know, we're afraid another bomb might go off. This is for your own safety. Get out of here. We haven't been able to speak to any Americans. But, as you witness said, many of these hotels are used by Westerners, contractors. They might be American. They might be British. And these are numbers if, indeed, among the injured and -- and -- and, God forbid, the dead, there might be Westerners, then, we will learn of those details a little bit later on -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, Hala Gorani there, right in between the Radisson and the Hyatt, as we continue to follow what appears to be three explosions there in Amman, Jordan, in three U.S. hotels -- Hala Gorani there on the ground. We have been able to talk to a few witnesses -- Fredricka Whitfield also in the newsroom, working more information via the International Desk, and, of course, wires that keep coming across our computers here, Fred.
What else are you able to gain from information coming?
WHITFIELD: Well, Kyra, the Jordanian News Agency is now reporting that three explosions are being blamed on three suicide bombers -- these explosions taking place in the three hotels that we have been mentioning for the past hour or so, the Radisson, the Hyatt, as well as the Days Inn.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us as well.
You were recently in Jordan, Barbara. And I was looking to see if Jordan happens to be on those -- on that travel warning list that the U.S. State Department keeps posted. I haven't come across it yet. Give us an idea. Was this a location where the U.S. Embassy -- or at least the U.S. State Department -- was discouraging Westerners, specifically Americans...
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't...
WHITFIELD: ... from going?
STARR: Fred, I don't know that they were discouraging Westerners from traveling there, because, of course, there's a very strong economic and business relationship between Western business and business in Jordan.
Now, when you travel through Amman, there are very efficient security services, but it's not really overwhelming. People are able to travel easily through the city. Having been there about a year ago, like so many of my colleagues from CNN, traveling to some of these Western hotels, staying in Amman, it really hasn't been that much of an issue.
We have spoken in the last hour to some of our sources in the military, U.S. military, and in the intelligence community, trying to get a read from them. They are watching this situation very closely here at the Pentagon, at the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, and out in the Persian Gulf.
Now, what our sources are telling us, of course, they don't have any conclusions yet. It's just way too soon. But the name Zarqawi has already been mentioned. There is a lot of concern that it is possible. They will learn in the hours and days ahead that Zarqawi might be tied to this. We do not know.
But, of course, Zarqawi comes from Jordan. He still has a network that, potentially, operates across, potentially, the Iraqi- Jordanian border. What one U.S. military official told us a little while ago, he said: We are very concerned, because Jordan is such a valuable partner in the global war on terrorism and, of course, a valuable partner in the coalition on -- in the war in Iraq.
What Jordan is doing behind the scenes is vital to the U.S. effort. The Jordanian government participates in training Iraqi security forces. That is something, of course, Zarqawi would like to disrupt. And, of course, a couple of years ago, when the United Nations building was bombed in Baghdad, and so many people were killed in that incident, international relief organization then viewed Baghdad as too dangerous. And they essentially pulled back to Amman, if you will.
Amman is now a center for much of the international relief work that does go on in Iraq with the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and other humanitarian relief organizations. So, this situation now is of great concern to the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community.
Sources say the intelligence community will certainly be looking for any evidence of Zarqawi. But there is this other indicator today that now has them very concerned. If it is demonstrated these attacks were simultaneous or near simultaneous, as we currently believe, that is a longstanding hallmark of al Qaeda organization and capability -- so, a great deal of concern at this point -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: And, so, Barbara, as you explain and express that U.S. intelligence will be aggressively now trying to discern whether Zarqawi had, indeed, a hand in this, at the same time, you have to wonder how aggressively U.S. diplomats are going to be working, whether they be in Amman or whether they be on the phone, trying to make sure that this relationship is not compromised as a result of these attacks, given the fact that Jordan has very much escaped the kinds of attacks that we have seen on other Middle Eastern countries in recent years, despite the kind of relations that Jordan has been offering to Iraq or the U.S.
Fred, let's be very clear on this point. That's a -- that's -- that's a really good point to make. Jordan, under King Abdullah and the royal family and the government of Jordan, has very efficient security and intelligence services. They, of course, it is expected, will take the lead in any investigation.
But there are very close relations between King Abdullah and the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community. All of this dates back many years to his father, the late King Hussein, who had very close personal ties for many years to the United States government and the CIA and the U.S. intelligence community. So, no matter what is done publicly, clearly, behind the scenes, the U.S. government and the Jordanian government are very likely to share information and share intelligence. Now, of course, because these hotels appear -- we don't know their exact ownership, under legal circumstances, but they certainly are Western hotels, if you will...
WHITFIELD: Yes. They have the labels.
STARR: ... representing -- correct -- representing U.S. business interests. This will be something of great interest and great concern to both U.S. law enforcement, U.S. military, and U.S. security services.
You know, let me just point out by example. All of us here at CNN, so many CNN personnel, reporters, producers, camera crews, have traveled in and out of Amman many, many times over the last years, during the war in Iraq. It was the -- really, the way in and out of Iraq by air. There were charter air services between Amman and Baghdad. This was clearly the gateway, not only for the U.S. news media, but for other contractors, other business people trying to move in and out of Iraq.
So, the key question here might be whether this essentially winds up being tied to the war in Iraq or it is some other motivation. It should be recalled that Amman, of course, has a very, very large Palestinian population that struggles economically. There has not, in recent years, typically been any real reported level of violence amongst that Palestinian population.
But Amman is a city that, essentially, operates on multiple levels. There are these Western business interests. And, then, over on the Eastern side of Amman, there is this very significant Palestinian population, a very crowded, busy, very vibrant area of Amman that really dates back almost to Roman times. There's a lot of historical ruins in Amman.
And -- and the Palestinian population, the real life of the Palestinian community, basically centers on that side of the city, the western side of Amman, more modern, more recently developed, also, very crowded and very busy. I think most Westerners who have traveled to Amman would tell you it's a very pleasant city to visit. It's very busy, very noisy, lots of traffic all night long.
You feel safe there. I can't say anyone I know that's traveled there felt particularly unsafe. I think the security services are -- are very efficient there. But it's not really overwhelming. So, this will be a very significant event in the Jordanian community -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much -- back to you, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Well, Michael Holmes, one of our CNN international correspondents and anchors, has been to Amman, Jordan, of course, a number of times on assignment. He joins us now by phone. Michael, I know that you're obviously not on assignment in the area. But you have been there a number of times. You heard about these blasts that have taken place. Why don't you sort of -- well, first of all, of everything that you have heard to this point, what are you thinking about why now, why Jordan, why this area?
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's fascinating listening to -- to Barbara there, Kyra, because everything she said is absolutely right.
I have been there probably a dozen times. I have stayed at the Hyatt Hotel, in fact, on one occasion. It's not our usual hotel. But I did stay there on one occasion, a very nice hotel. It is the gateway to Baghdad. Most of the times I have been there, it's been going in and out of Iraq.
And it was always a bit of an oasis. It was your little overnight stay before you went into the war zone. Or, on the way out, you would try to get two or three days and put your feet up in Amman and take the flak jacket off and feel safe and -- and feel at home.
I always liked going to Amman, Jordan. It's -- it's a very nice city, and very nice people. I was quite surprised to see this level of coordinated attack -- well, surprised -- shocked, perhaps, but not surprised. I mean, there -- there are the groups that would wish Jordan harm, because of its ties with the United States, its support of the United States on all sorts of issues.
So, I don't think anyone can be surprised that Jordan is being targeted. But the security system there is very efficient. The secret police, the -- the security organizations are very good at hunting out groups. They have stopped many attacks in the past. This is a very well-coordinated attack.
To have three bombs like this go off in such a short space of time, for all intents and purposes, simultaneously, at three hotels like this is -- is very, very shocking.
I can tell you, though, that the other hotels I have stayed, too, security is not overbearing at those hotels. I have stayed at probably four hotels over the years in Amman. It's not a place where you walk in and there's armed guards and the like. It's fairly relaxed in that regard.
So, I would imagine, for a determined suicide bomber to walk into a place like the Hyatt would not have been all that difficult.
PHILLIPS: So, obviously, it's -- it's very different from Iraq. I mean, we know what it's like in Baghdad and around those hotels. I mean, you have to walk quite a ways, sometimes, to get into just the perimeter around the hotel. There's massive security.
PHILLIPS: So, it's very different, Iraq vs. Amman, yes?
HOLMES: Oh, it's chalk and cheese. I mean, they're in the same region. And they share a border.
But they are completely different. You're right. I mean, when we were at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, sometimes, it would take you 20 to 25 minutes, sometimes longer, to actually...
HOLMES: ... to get the last couple of hundred meters into the hotel, because of the layers of security -- quite the opposite in Amman.
You -- you pull up outside, and there -- there -- there's no overt security in Amman, in the way you think of when you think of Baghdad. It's a different world. And, as we -- as I said, when we were coming out of Baghdad, it was always such a relief to get to Amman. It was always our staging area to fly in or, in the early days, when it was still safe, to drive in from -- from Jordan.
PHILLIPS: Michael, let me ask you about this Tawhid terrorist group, Abu Am -- or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist group. As we know, he's al Qaeda's leader in -- in Iraq. He is from a -- a suburb just outside of Amman. Is it possible that his -- his terrorist organization, the Tawhid group, could be involved in these attacks?
HOLMES: It -- it certainly is possible. They have certainly, as a group, shown that they have got the capability to do something like this. Whether they are responsible, of course, is -- is way too early to tell.
And, I think, as Peter Bergen was saying earlier, too, claims of responsibility in these next few hours should be treated with caution as well, because there are often false claims of responsibility. Do they have the capability? Absolutely. Does he have communications with contacts in Jordan? I would say that is indisputable. And, so, could it have been carried out by his group? Absolutely -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, Michael, stay with me. Just two things I want to get in here, as, Michael Holmes, you stay with us on the phone there.
This is coming from our chief national correspondent, John King. As you know, I had interviewed a -- a witness there earlier on that believed he might have seen the Jordanian prime minister's car at one of those hotels. But, according to John King, a number of U.S. government officials are saying they do not believe that there are any high-profile or government VIPs that have been visiting these hotels.
But the officials added that they are checking and trying to get more information. So, it will be interesting to see if, indeed, the Jordanian prime minister was possibly at one of those hotels. But that's coming to us from John King about U.S. government officials saying they don't believe any high-profile or government VIPs were visiting there.
And I guess maybe we should clarify, maybe, if -- if John is talking about U.S. high-ranking officials or U.S. and Jordanian high- ranking officials.
We should probably try and clarify that point as well. Meanwhile, we've got Michael Holmes on the phone with us. He has been in Amman, Jordan, a number of times as a correspondent.
And we've been talking about these three hotels that received these explosions. The Grand Hyatt, the Radisson and the Days Inn.
A quick overview of the hotels that appear to have been targeted by these bombings. Reports we're reading, possibly suicide bombers. The Radisson hotel, 260 rooms, built in 1978. Radisson was the target of a planned terror attack by an al Qaeda cell.
That was part of what sometimes referred to as the Millennium Plot, which was thwarted in late 1999. That Radisson was among multiple sites targeted in that scheme, including Los Angeles International Airport.
Now some other basic information on the other two hotels. The Grand Hyatt hotel in Amman was built in 1998. It has nine floors and 316 rooms. The Days Inn hotel is the newest of the three. It was built in the year 2000. It has ten floors and 112 rooms.
We're continuing to talk about these hotels and Michael Holmes who stayed there a number of times, as a correspondent, working stories in that area.
Michael, you talk about the difference between security around these hotels and sort of the feel when you go to Amman, Jordan. This is a place you can relax. There are good relations between the U.S. and the Jordanian government there. This is not a place that you really fear for threats like this, like you do in Iraq.
But you know it makes sense. If these terrorist cells are growing and continuing to breed and looking for ways to attack U.S. interests, if this is a place that normally you wouldn't worry about these type of threats. Well, it would make sense that they would go after these hotels in this area.
HOLMES: I think it's also, you know, it's all about perspective, too. I say that it's a place you can relax. I'm comparing it to Baghdad. It a place that does not have overt security.
I'll just clear one thing up, too. The prime minister's car was seen at the Hyatt hotel. My understanding here is that he went there after the blast and went there to have a look for himself and was not there when the blast occurred.
That was the information I received earlier. As far as these hotels are concerned, what we have to also remember is that although Jordan is a very U.S.-friendly country in term of its government, it's not necessarily true of the majority of the population.
The massive Palestinian population there, who feel resentment toward the U.S. for its support of Israel. There is also a large group of, well, let's call them hard liners, who do not approve of the way Jordan is being run in a political and religious sense, either.
There is a well of resentment in Jordan. It's not the sort of place, not to say it hasn't happened, because it has. But generally speaking not the sort of place where as a Westerner, you feel under threat walking down the street.
I do remember, you know, the buildup to the first Gulf War I was in Amman. A couple of Westerners were shot in the street. But it's not something that's a daily occurrence. It's not something that's on your mind when you go out to a restaurant to eat.
You do keep your wits about you. But compared to Baghdad, it's a paradise. But, there are risks there bubbling under the surface. There's a resentment bubbling under the surface among a large amount of the population.
As far as the hotels are concerned, as I said, security is not what I would call tight at any of the major hotels in Amman, simply because they haven't felt a need for it.
As targets, absolutely. Western-branded hotels, if you were going to strike anything, you would strike those because of the lack of security, comparatively speaking, and because of what they represent. Also because of who goes there.
People like us, people like businessmen, people like tourists even, who go to Jordan. Jordan is a popular tourist destination for many people in the Middle East.
PHILLIPS: Michael Holmes, a CNN International correspondent and anchor. Been to Amman, Jordan, a number of times. Talking to us about his experiences there. And of course, the politics and the religion and acts of terrorism that we are talking about today.
New video right now just coming in to CNN. I'm not sure if this is from one of our crews or possibly Al-Arabiya that's been bringing us incredible pictures of the scene.
If you're just tuning in, explosions in downtown Amman. You see now, live pictures via Al-Arabiya. At least ten people killed, at least 50 others wounded. Associated Press saying 18 people killed, possibly 120 people wounded.
We're able to confirm 10 killed, more than 50 wounded right -- about 50 people wounded right now.
It's a blast that occurred at the Radisson hotel. Another blast at the Hyatt hotel. And then another blast at the Days Inn hotel. All very close to each other there in Amman, Jordan.
Fredricka Whitfield also working more information on this breaking news story. We continue to follow, she's in the newsroom. Fred, what do you have?
WHITFIELD: Well Kyra, CNN is learning that both U.S. military and U.S. civilian intelligence are working very aggressively to find out the root of these explosions, to find out what kind of group may be connected to these three suspected suicide bombings.
Justice correspondent Kelli Arena joins us now, with a little bit more on now how the FBI might be involved in this ensuing investigation. Kelli?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, you're exactly right. The key to finding out who pulled this off is to get more details on the types of explosives that were used.
That's number one. FBI will offer its assistance through the U.S. State Department to Jordanian officials because U.S. interests are involved.
There's -- it's not clear whether U.S. citizens are involved, but definitely U.S. property. And so, if Jordan says yes, we can use your help, then the FBI would send a team of agents over there to work on the investigation.
Right now the FBI has a legal attache office in Jordan. Only about two agents work there permanently. But that office has been there for a long time, Fred.
There's a very good counterterrorism relationship between the United States and Jordan. Jordan, as you know, has been a target of a variety of terror attempts recently. Just this past summer there were more than a dozen people who were arrested, allegedly trying to plot against Jordanian intelligence officials, U.S. military officials there in the country.
Also, there was the Millennium Plot, as we've been talking about all afternoon. There was also a chemical attack about a year and a half ago, a plot for a chemical-laden truck to attack in the city.
So, this is a country who is well-versed in dealing with terrorists and, of course, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is Jordanian and he is said to have a very strong network of followers in Jordan, which is why, of course, all of the questions about al Qaeda or his involvement are popping up as quickly as they are, Fred.
WHITFIELD: And Kelli, you have to think because of these foiled plots that you just mentioned, that the Jordanian government, its counterterrorism intelligence agencies, et cetera, had to have felt pretty emboldened, pretty good, that they've been able to foil so many plots, that they've been able to escape the kinds of attacks we've seen in other neighboring nations and now this.
ARENA: Well you know, Fred, I don't think that any counterterrorism official ever feels emboldened. As they said, and I've heard it, and it sounds like a cliche, but it is true. You know, they have to get lucky every single time.
The terrorist only has to get lucky once. We've done a lot of reporting here at CNN about how it is next to impossible to stop a suicide bombing. If this is indeed what it was, as you came on earlier and said that it look like there were three suicide bombers involved. That is something that here in the United States officials have said, there's very little that you can do about that, especially if you're dealing with a soft target like a hotel. Anyone can walk in with explosives strapped on, and boom, off it goes.
There's been a lot of concern here in the United States about that possibility and a lot of questions about why we haven't seen that happen on U.S. soil. But, it's not like you're going to gather a whole lot of intelligence about a suicide bombing attack, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Kelli Arena, thank you very much.
Again, just to underscore, the reports of the suicide bombers, that's according to the Jordanian news agency. And of course, all of this information trickling in from various news agencies and all of it is very fluid and could change rather quickly on that -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right Fred, thank you so much.
The latest now on these deadly explosions in three international hotels in Jordan. Jordanian police say officials believe the blasts in downtown Amman were carried out by suicide bombers. The Associated Press reports at least 18 people killed, more than 120 wounded.
The targets were the Grand Hyatt, Radisson and Days Inn hotels. A police officer says the attacks carry the trademark of al Qaeda.
All three hotels are favored by American and European businessmen and diplomats. The Radisson is popular with Israeli tourists as well. It's believed to have been a target of a failed al Qaeda plot in the past.
At the Radisson, a wedding party was in progress when that explosion occurred. We've been talking to a number of a correspondents on the ground and, of course, the number of our military experts and experts on terrorism. I want to go to Ken Robinson who is joining us out of Los Angeles. That's where he is today. Of course, your background is military and intelligence and terrorism.
s Ken, and I want to ask you, you know, we're talking about signs of al Qaeda here. But Peter Bergen had brought up two prime suspect terror groups for this bombing, one being Tawhid, Abu Musab al- Zarqawi's group in Jordan, pretty active in Jordan until about 2001, 2003. They wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and want to attack Jewish and Israeli targets.
There was this wedding taking place in one of the hotels -- OK. Ken, stay with me. I want to talk to you about these possible terror groups. But in the meantime, we're able to get Kristen Gillespie on the phone. She's a journalist there in Amman. Kristen, can you hear me OK?
KRISTEN GILLESPIE, JOURNALIST: Yes, I can.
PHILLIPS: OK, tell me what you know. GILLESPIE: Well, I got to the Grand Hyatt in downtown Amman a few minutes after the explosion. The authorities hadn't yet had the chance to seal off the scene. Ambulances, dozens of ambulances were rushing to the scene, were removing bodies that had been moved from inside the lobby to outside the lobby.
PHILLIPS: Now, were you -- which hotel were you staying in, Kristen?
GILLESPIE: I -- nearby, near the Grand Hyatt which is in Downtown Amman. There's a center -- there's a part of Amman that has a lot of hotels where foreigners and contractors and Jordanians go to eat and to stay. And I went to the scene and saw them. The explosion had been inside the lobby, not outside.
PHILLIPS: Now, do you feel safe where you are? What type -- what are security officials telling you? What are people around you telling you as a journalist, as an American about what to do right now?
GILLESPIE: Right now, everybody seems to be in shock. This is the first time that anything like this has happened in Jordan. It's a country noted for its stability. The guests who were staying in the Hyatt seem to be completely bewildered by what had happened. They didn't know what had happened. They heard an explosion. They went outside.
PHILLIPS: Kristen, are you still with me?
GILLESPIE: Yes. At least five were killed.
PHILLIPS: OK. Are you getting information as we're talking right now, or you have other co-workers there able to bring you updated numbers and details?
PHILLIPS: Right now what we're getting is a smattering of eyewitness accounts. One person said that dozens had been wounded in the lobby, that the lobby was full. It was about 9:00 at night here, and it's prime time for people to be having dinner and milling around.
Others are saying scores were wounded in the other explosions as well. What I can say for sure is I saw at least five bodies being removed from the Hyatt who -- that were probably killed in the explosion.
PHILLIPS: Now, Kristen, getting mixed reports from various people that have worked and lived in this area, some saying it's always been a very safe area, others saying, no, you're always looking over your shoulder when you're working and living within that area due to the threat of terrorism nowadays, especially that part of the country.
I mean, you have been working there. I don't know how long you've been in the region. Maybe you can tell me that. And tell me, you know, is this something that you worried about on a regular basis? GILLESPIE: Well, I've been here on and off for about five years in Jordan. And it's always been in the back of my mind, because Jordan is a country that borders Syria, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank, Israel, and Iraq. So it's definitely in a complicated place geographically.
At the same time, the government has always worked hard to clamp down on any potential dissent or al Qaeda or militants. And up until today, they had done a pretty good job. But I really think that it was inevitable that something like this happened at some point in Jordan.
PHILLIPS: Tough story to cover today. Kristen Gillespie, a journalist there in Amman. Kristen, thank you so much.
I want to bring our Ken Robinson, out of Los Angeles now. As you know, Ken is former military, his specialty in terrorism and intelligence. Ken, I was starting to ask you about these two prime suspect terror groups possibly involved in this bombing.
Tell me about Tawhid, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group there in Jordan. What do we know about this group? And could this terrorist organization possibly be responsible for what we're seeing today?
KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I think Peter's instincts are pretty good. This group, its ideology has been partly that aligned with al Qaeda, which is a Salafist ideology. They want to see the overthrow of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and they are one of the likely suspects in this type of event.
PHILLIPS: Now, when's the last time -- I mean, I don't remember talking about this organization as we have been talking about Abu al- Zarqawi and various terrorist factions and al Qaeda and attacks and who is taking responsibility for what. This is not a name that I remember talking about in quite some time. Is it possible that this cell could have remained sleepy for awhile and now there's a reason that it might be coming forward and committing such attacks?
ROBINSON: Well, I think it's fair to say that, you know, terrorism is theater. And what they have achieved now with simultaneous attacks is they're getting the theater that they want of economic impact, which are going to occur to the Jordanian people. They want to see a disenfranchisement between the monarchy and the average person on the street.
Most of those people on the street in Jordan happen to be Palestinians. And so there's a lot of different groups that could have an opportunity to claim sponsorship for this event today. The larger issue is really the Salafist ideology, the Sunni-based ideology, that basically wants the west out of all of the areas in the Middle East.
PHILLIPS: Now, there have been reports of this wedding that was taking place, possibly one of these explosions happening in the banquet room of a wedding. We're getting new video in right now that might possibly be of that celebration, possibly an Israeli wedding. Of course, you know, the politics here, Ken, how could this, whether it's U.S. intervention in Iraq, whether it's, you know, relations between Iraq and Israel, if indeed this was a planned explosion on this wedding party, possibly an Israeli wedding, 250 people there, what kind of message is that sending out?
ROBINSON: The message is a pretty abrupt one. It says you're not welcome. You know, one of Americans' problems when they're overseas is complacency in their own security. Even though everyone knows that it's now a very dangerous place in the 21st century, when you're coming and going out of these hotels on a regular basis, I see many Americans who complain about being encountered at the front doors, being slowed down and having their bags searched even though they know that it's a different world.
And part of that is what leads to these attacks, is the complacency at these front doors where people are inconvenienced. Every one of these places has the ability to screen, search anyone entering. And a suicide bomber is a guided missile, only he's got a brain instead of telemetry.
PHILLIPS: All right, Ken Robinson, military intelligence analyst, stay with us, will you please, coming to us out of Los Angeles there? We want to go back to Fredricka Whitfield who's also working more information on the story in our news room -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: Well, Kyra, King Abdullah of Jordan is condemning these attacks. And our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel, has just recently spoken with Jordanian officials as well as U.S. State Department officials. And, Andrea, what are they saying?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I just spoke with the ambassador to Washington, the Jordanian ambassador to Washington, and he says, to his knowledge, the Jordanian prime minister and other Jordanian officials only arrived at these hotels after the fact.
He said that it's quite common after there's been some kind of disturbance for officials to want to go and see for themselves what happened. I know there had been some speculation out there that perhaps because an eyewitness had seen the cars, that they might have been inside the time of attacks.
In addition, the Jordanian ambassador say that there were, to his knowledge, no advanced warnings about these attacks. There had been no intelligence that they had gotten, the Jordanian security forces had gotten, that alerted them to the fact that this was in the planning stages.
There have been other instances, in fact as recently as the last year, in which the Jordanians had heard perhaps there might be an attack and believe that they thwarted potential suicide car bombings, car bombings against -- that would have targeted U.S. embassy and other Jordanian government sites. That attack never happened.
In addition, State Department officials say that as far as they know -- and, again, these are very, very early hours after the attack. No Americans were hurt in the attack. At this point, that's what they're saying.
They also say that they have embassy officials on the scene there trying to assess the situation, trying to make sure that if there are any Americans there that they can help things out.
Now the question, I know that's on a lot of people's minds, was there any alert that U.S. government officials had put out? I can tell you the State Department issues these travel warnings routinely. There hasn't been one issued since this summer, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: OK, Andrea. And, you know, you talk about how very aggressively the U.S. officials are already on the scene, those that are there in Amman to assess what's going on. Can you talk to me about what you've learned from your sources about the kind of relationship they -- that Jordanian as well as U.S. officials will have in trying to investigate this scene?
KOPPEL: Well, really since -- and I've heard a number of my other colleagues mention this -- but since 1999, when there was the possibility, everyone thought, of the millennium attacks that would have taken place in Amman and in other places as well, the U.S., U.S. security forces, the FBI, the CIA, State Department intelligence officials have worked hand-in-glove with Jordanian security forces.
I can tell you, Fredricka, that as far as who might be responsible for this, one State Department official said obviously the name that is out there is Zarqawi. If it walks look a duck and talks likes a duck, this official said, that who certainly lead you in that direction -- Whitfield.
WHITFIELD: All right, Andrea Koppel, thanks so much. And again, Kyra, so no travel warnings had been issued by the U.S. State Department to Americans. And that only underscores the kind of comfort level that a number of Westerners, specifically a lot of Americans, had by being there in Amman, Jordan -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, Fred, thanks. We want to take viewers now straight to the streets there in Amman.
Dr. Khalid Salaymeh actually there on the scene treating patients. Doctor, can you describe to us the scene and what exactly you're doing?
DR. KHALID SALAYMEH, KLAHIDI HOSPITAL IN AMMAN: Sure. Actually I just came in to give a hand to my colleagues here at this hospital, which is considered the closest hospital to the scene of the explosions, (INAUDIBLE) hospital. And we have, according to the medical director of the hospital, we have received here five bodies. And so far around 12 wounded people. Things seem to be under control and the chaos has cooled down a bit. Things are under control.
PHILLIPS: What kind of injuries? And have doctors -- even doctors like yourself -- been able to assess what might have caused these injuries? SALAYMEH: To tell you the truth, mostly -- I mean, I know that two patients will need surgery within the next few hours up. One in the head, and the other in the leg. I don't know exact details of the injuries, but I know that the other probably ten wounded patients are minor injuries, and they are not serious injuries at all. But two will need surgeries. And I'm not sure, but I think the general condition is stable.
PHILLIPS: Do you know if they're Jordanian or American? Or have you been able to possibly figure out how many of the injured, you know, could be from the United States or there in Amman?
SALAYMEH: At the moment, since it was the chaos getting everybody in and making sure that everybody is stable, actually, we don't have that exact information. However, I can tell you that it's a lot of nationalities. I know some Iraqis are amongst the wounded. I know that some other nationalities -- German, probably Filipino. I'm not sure about Americans.
But as I said, these details are not exact. As everybody is trying to make sure that those patients are well taken care of. As you know, of course, regardless of their nationality.
PHILLIPS: Of course, of course. Dr. Khalid Salaymeh there at one of the hospitals, where they're treating the injured. Even reporting to us at least five bodies being brought in, five individuals that have died in these attacks, about 12 wounded. Doctor, thank you so much.
SALAYMEH: My pleasure.
PHILLIPS: And we're just getting pictures in right now, fresh pictures in, of the hotels. Or no, we've got still pictures. There you go. There's a look at the Days Inn, the Grand Hyatt and the Radisson, the three hotels that -- where these explosions took place simultaneously there in downtown Amman, Jordan.
And as we continue to report on these explosions and get more information of how this went down and why this went down, justice correspondent Kelli Arena had a chance to talk with her FBI sources. And I also know that a Pat D'Amuro, former FBI, is with us there in New York.
Kelli, what are your active FBI agents telling you? Are there any agents there on the ground? Are they responding? Will they respond?
ARENA: Well, Kyra, there is a legal attache office in Jordan that has been there for years. The FBI has actually a very good relationship on the counterterrorism front with Jordan. About two agents that are stationed there permanently. But there is a team that would go in if Jordan asks for that.
We actually got a statement from the FBI and it says that Director Mueller is being briefed on the developments, with constant updates. He's in office at headquarters, receiving updates from both the strategic info and operations center and from the FBI legal attache in Amman. FBI will only respond at the request of the Jordanian government.
But I have to tell you that most of the agents that I spoke to, Kyra, do anticipate that Jordan will make that request and that a team of agents will soon be on its way to Amman because U.S. interests are involved.
PHILLIPS: Well, let's see. Is Pat D'Amuro up with us live out of New York? Let's see, Kelli, if he's with us. Is Pat up?
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I'm here.
PHILLIPS: Pat, did you just hear what Kelli said? And is it possible that the FBI could become more active in this?
D'AMURO: Yes, I think it very well could. We have had an outstanding relationship with the Jordanians in the past. If you remember, this goes back to the millennium investigation where the Radisson and the Hyatt were targeted during that time frame.
In fact, I deployed with some FBI agents and CIA agents to that part of the globe to collect additional intelligence. And we actually showed where that particular investigation that the Jordanians had, where they recovered a large cache of explosive material, was tied into Rassam (ph) and to Abu Zabada (ph) with al Qaeda and others. And that's really what kicked off the millennium investigation here in the United States.
PHILLIPS: So, tell me if indeed the FBI -- tell me the first step -- Kelli was mentioning the attache office there. What would be -- what's the protocol? How would they -- what would they do now and then how would the FBI become involved on a deeper level?
D'AMURO: Well, the FBI would not be sending individuals over to Amman without the invitation of that country. Right now, they're in the process, of course, of gathering as much information about the bombings as possible. The intelligence service in Amman in Jordan is very, very good. And they've been successful in stopping a number of attacks prior to the bombings that we're seeing here today.
But again, al Qaeda has indicated -- and if this is a group we believe could possibly be affiliated with al Qaeda -- shows that they will go back to targets that they've once tried to target before. Those particular targets were because there were large number of American tourists that used to visit those hotels and those locations. That going back to the millennium investigation.
PHILLIPS: So, Pat, even if it turns out Americans have been killed in these explosions, doesn't that automatically -- I can't remember how the exact protocol -- but doesn't -- don't American authorities automatically have the ability to get involved if, indeed, Americans do turn up, that they've been killed if these explosions?
D'AMURO: Well, the protocol is that if any United States citizen is killed abroad, the FBI has primary jurisdiction in investigating that particular situation.
D'AMURO: But you cannot go into that host country without the invitation of that country.
PHILLIPS: So, what do you know about Tawhid, Abu Musab al Zarqawi's group in Jordan there? Peter Bergen has brought up the terrorist organization as possibly being one that was involved. Was this organization involved in the millennium situation?
D'AMURO: Well, I think what investigators need to do right now is to go back and take a look at the individuals. I mean, here's a situation where I'm not sure we've had a suicide bombing situation before in Jordan. They've have had bombings before, bombings in the theater district, going back into the '80s and I think the early '90s.
But suicide bombings are something new and different. Now we're seeing that techniques that were being utilized in Iraq by Zarqawi and others may be trained to individuals that are coming from the Zarqa area of Jordan and now conducting these types of attacks there. Very possible that there are links to Zarqawi and some of these individuals may very well have been trained in Iraq.
PHILLIPS: Pat, stay with us. Justice correspondent Kelli Arena wanting to add to this. It was interesting that Pat just said, Kelli, that he doesn't believe a suicide bombing has ever taken place in Jordan.
ARENA: That's right. Most of the counterterrorism officials that I spoke to said that this is the first time that they remembered this happening. Of course, it's a big concern here in the United States, as well. Lots of people questioning why this hasn't happened.
But I can't -- but following on the possible involvement of Zarqawi, several counterterrorism officials that I spoke to and some intelligence officials that my colleague David Ensor spoke to say that this does bear the hallmark of an attack that he would conduct.
And as you know, Zarqawi is Jordanian. He is believed to have a very strong network there in Jordan. He was convicted in Jordan in Absentia. So, you know, all eyes are definitely pointing that direction, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Kelli Arena, Pat D'Amuro, among others helping us work this breaking news story. Thank you so much. Deadly explosions at three international hotels in Amman, Jordan.
That wraps up for us here in Atlanta. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer now takes over our coverage, live in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Wolf.
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