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French Version

Several arrests made in hunt for Aqaba rocket attackers

Scores of Arab suspects were undergoing questioning in connection with Friday's rocket attack on U.S. warships in the Red Sea port of Aqaba, Jordanian security officials said yesterday.

Interior Minister Awni Yarfas said security forces had arrested an unspecified number of suspects after three Katyusha rockets were fired, missing the warships but hitting a warehouse and a hospital, killing one soldier and wounding another.

"The security forces are now interrogating detainees suspected of being involved in this criminal act. The authorities are making progress," Yarfas said.

One official said that at least two arrests were believed to be significant.

Jordanian police raided suspected Islamist militant hideouts across the country, a security source said, but most of those arrested were found during house-to-house searches of the Shalala quarter overlooking the port.

The Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet said one missile narrowly missed the USS Ashland, an amphibious assault ship designed to carry marines and launch assault landing craft and helicopters.

Although the rockets missed the warship, the Navy decided to sail both of its ships out of Aqaba bay as a precaution. They had arrived earlier in the week for a military exercise with the Jordanian Navy.

Security sources said several Iraqis, a Syrian and scores of Egyptians and Jordanians were among those detained in the poor Shalala area, known as a hotbed of crime and a hideout for smugglers and cross-border drug trading.

Police sources said a number of unused Katyushas were also found in the warehouse in the city's industrial area from where investigators say the rockets were launched.

A security source said electrical wiring found at the site suggested plans to fire the rockets by remote control.

The authorities had earlier said Iraqis and Egyptians had leased the warehouse a few days before the attack.

One Jordanian security official said that several new leads pointed to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network being behind the attack, though there was no proof of this.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades - an Al-Qaeda-linked group that claimed responsibility for the bombings which killed at least 64 people at Sharm al-Sheikh in July and 34 people at two other Egyptian resorts last October - said in an Internet statement that its fighters had fired the Katyushas, bolstering concerns that Islamic extremists had opened a new front in the region.

The security source said Jordanian authorities had in recent months received several warnings that Aqaba port, a logistics hub and a main supply base for U.S. forces in Iraq, was a prime target for an Al-Qaeda attack.

A security source said initial probes indicated the attackers may have planned to hit other targets, including King Abdullah's beach palace resort and a hotel complex used by American soldiers on leave between Iraq combat missions.

Jordan is trying to determine the source of the Katyusha rockets, and how they were smuggled into the country, which has tight border security.

Lebanon's Shiite resistance group Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has thousands of Katyushas.

Doug Richardson, of the London-based Jane's Defense Review, said the rockets have been widely copied from their original Russian design and modified by many countries, including those in eastern Europe and China.

Iran and Hizbullah would be "potential sources" of the weapon, he said in an interview.

In Syria, Elias Murad, chief editor of Al-Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of the country's ruling Baath Party, said attempts to involve Damascus were "ridiculous because Katyusha rockets exist in two-thirds of the world."

The Daily Star

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