Nov 17, 2005 | 00:41 GMT

4 mins read

Al Qaeda's Misstep in Jordan

Two days after the Nov. 9 suicide bombings at three Western hotels in Amman, Jordan, al Qaeda's Iraqi branch released a statement saying three men and a woman staged the attack and that the woman had "decided to accompany her husband on the path to martyrdom." Al Qaeda in Iraq, however, apparently had not yet realized that the female bomber had failed to detonate. The jihadist network's aggressive public relations effort, then, actually tipped off the Jordanians and enabled them to capture the fourth cell member, 35-year-old Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi. The fact that the statement erroneously mentioned a fourth bomber indicates it was prepared before the attackers deployed for the operation, and was released before the network knew that al-Rishawi failed to complete her suicide attack with her husband. It is not unusual for a claim of responsibility to be prepared in advance of an operation, as its release shortly after the attack maximizes its effectiveness. In this case, however, the statement tipped off the Jordanians to the fact that one of the bombers remained at large. The Jordanian's intelligence service probably is the most effective Arab intelligence organization in the region. As soon as the Jordanians realized that there was still a bomber on the loose, good investigation practices enabled them to quickly round her up. Although the jihadist group's aggressive public relations effort after the Amman attack may have compromised part of the operation, the Jordanians also might have tipped their hand by announcing the capture of the failed bomber. A more prudent strategy might have been for the Jordanians to keep al-Rishawi "on ice" — rather than air her confession on national television — and thus to have the opportunity to exploit more of the intelligence gained from interviewing her. This information could have led to more arrests further up the al Qaeda chain of command in Jordan and Iraq. Three of al-Rishawi's brothers and her husband reportedly were active in the jihadist network's Iraqi branch. Of those, two brothers, Ammar and Yassir, were killed in combat against U.S. forces in Ar Ramadi and another, Thamir, was a known member of a jihadist insurgent cell until he was killed by a U.S. missile strike on his pickup truck in Al Fallujah. Because of her family connections to al Qaeda in Iraq, al-Rishawi likely can provide information about mid-level members of the group and their relationships to one another. She also should be in a position to provide information on the location of safe-houses and other of the group's facilities in Iraq. However, the operatives she knows would have relocated as soon al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi learned of her arrest — as he knows firsthand the effectiveness of interrogation techniques employed by Jordanian intelligence. Al-Rishawi's capture also led investigators to her unexploded bomb, a vital piece of evidence that will provide technological information — and possible fingerprints — and also can be used to analyze and trace the explosives and other components. Furthermore, investigators also will look for little idiosyncrasies in the way the device was constructed — the so-called "signature" of the bombmaker. Al-Rishawi, however, probably cannot provide the Jordanians (and by proxy, U.S. intelligence) with information about the jihadist network's long-range plans and strategy. In conservative Islamist organization such as al Qaeda in Iraq, a woman would not be close to the decision-making and planning processes. In addition, it appears from her statements to the Jordanians that she participated in the suicide attack exclusively on the orders of her husband — with minimal training and indoctrination — and that she had limited knowledge about the group's activities outside of the Amman operation. Although both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Jordanians might have been better served by showing more discretion, the general war on terrorism nonetheless will benefit from al-Rishawi's interrogation — a process that could last for some time.

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