Jihadists are becoming increasingly active in Jordan, already gripped by political crisis and buffeted by a growing spillover from the 19-month-old civil war in neighboring Syria that could threaten the Hashemite throne.
On Oct. 20, the kingdom's General Intelligence Directorate reportedly arrested 11 men, all Jordanians, it said were part of a plot by a cell linked to al-Qaida to bomb shopping malls in Amman and assassinate Western diplomats.
At least two major malls were targeted, Information Minister Samih al-Maaytah said. Another target was the upscale Abdoun quarter in the city where many foreign embassies and diplomats' homes are located.
Officials said the group called itself "11-9 the Second," after the last major jihadist attack in Amman on Nov. 9, 2005, in which suicide bombers hit three top Amman hotels, killing 63 people.
The new plot included suicide bombers, whom the group was seeking to recruit, and car bombings against hotels, nightclubs and other public places, security sources reported.
Had the attacks taken place, hundreds of people would have killed, officials said.
Although there's skepticism about the latest jihadist plot, there's little doubt the kingdom faces a threat from Islamic militants, one magnified by the bloodletting in Syria.
"This kind of threat could have happened with or without Syria," a Western diplomat in Amman observed.
"But if you've got a worsening situation in Syria, structures continuing to breakdown and extremists going around with more and more weapons, of course it's a worry."
Some 300 Jordanians are reported to have gone to Syria to jihadists fighting the Assad regime.
Two of Zarqawi's cousins were arrested this month when they returned to Jordan from five months of combat in Syria.
"If the regime falls in Syria and radical Islamist groups become influential there, it'll be easier for these extremist groups to work in Jordan to destabilize the country," warned former lawmaker Hazem al-Awran.
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