Hotel bombings and Iraq war connection stated by Al-Qaida

Al-Qaida issued an Internet claim of responsibility Thursday for three suicide bomb attacks on Western hotels that killed at least 56 people, linking the deadly blasts to the war in Iraq and calling Amman the "backyard garden" for U.S. operations. Police continued a broad security lockdown and authorities sent DNA samples for testing to identify the attackers. Land borders were reopened after being closed for nearly 12 hours.

Government spokesman Bassel Tarawneh lowered the death toll by one, citing confusion in the early hours after the blasts. "But we expect the number to rise as some of the injured -at least two - are in serious condition in hospital," he told The Associated Press.

He said the victims included 15 Jordanians, one Saudi, one Palestinian, five Iraqis, three Chinese, one Indonesian and 30 others whose identification has not yet been determined. A Palestinian official in Jordan reported two top security officials died in the blast. There was no explanation for that discrepancy. Also, an Israeli newspaper listed an Israeli-Arab among the dead.

The official Petra news agency quoted unnamed Jordanian medical experts who treated the injured as saying that many of the wounds were inflicted by metal ball bearings used in the explosives. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called King Abdullah II to express Israel's condolences and to offer assistance, his office said in a statement, the AP reports.

The near simultaneous attacks late Wednesday also wounded more than 115 people, police said.

Police spokesman Maj. Bashir al-Da'aja told The Associated Press that authorities detained several people overnight and Thursday morning, although it was unclear if those being held were suspects or witnesses. "They are being interrogated as we speak," he said. The al-Qaida claim, posted on a militant Internet site, said Jordan became a target because it was "a backyard garden for the enemies of the religion, Jews and crusaders...a filthy place for the traitors...and a center for prostitution." The claim could not be independently verified.

The claim of responsibility, signed in the name of the spokesman for Al-Qaida in Iraq, said the attacks put the United States on notice that the "backyard camp for the crusader army is now in the range of fire of the holy warriors."

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said the attack should alert Jordan that it needed to stop playing host to former members of Saddam Hussein's regime. A.M.

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