Amman, Jordan The Mideast's most feared terrorist sought Friday to justify a triple suicide bombing on Amman hotels that killed 59 civilians, insisting he did not deliberately target a wedding party and appealing to Muslims to believe that he was not attacking them.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, took an unusually defensive tone in an audiotape posted on the Internet, seeking to shore up support after widespread anger over the civilian deaths, even among sympathizers.
Still, the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi made clear he was not about to stop the bloodshed, warning he will attack more tourist sites in Jordan and threatening to behead King Abdullah II. He said he was targeting Jordan because it is serving as a "protector" for Israel, helps the U.S. military in Iraq and has become a "swamp of obscenity," with alcohol and prostitution in its tourist sites.
"Your star is fading. You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off," al-Zarqawi said, referring to the king.
Al-Zarqawi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head from the U.S., told Jordanians to stay away from bases used by U.S. forces, hotels and tourist sites in Amman, the Dead Sea and the southern resort of Aqaba and embassies of governments participating in the war in Iraq, saying they would be targeted.
"People of Islam in Jordan, we want to assure you that we are extremely careful over your lives ... you are more beloved to us than ourselves," he said.
The authenticity of the audiotape, posted on an Islamic militant Web forum, could not be confirmed independently, but the voice resembled that of al-Zarqawi on previous tapes.
The tape was posted following widespread outrage over the Nov. 9 bombings against three Amman hotels that killed 59 people, 30 of them in a Jordanian-Palestinian wedding party held in a ballroom.
Jordan has seen a series of large demonstrations denouncing the attack, including one on Friday. Thousands marched through downtown Amman, chanting "Al-Zarqawi, you coward," and carrying banners that read "Al-Zarqawi, you are the enemy of God."
Contributors to militant Web forums - who generally lionize al-Zarqawi and praise his attacks - criticized the bombings. In the militant leader's hometown of Zarqa, east of Amman, many residents denounced him, saying he has lost any sympathy he had there.
In the past, al-Zarqawi has defended Muslim civilian casualties in attacks by his suicide bombers in Iraq, saying they were justified because the attacks are part of a "jihad" against U.S. occupiers and their Iraqi allies. "God ordered us to attack the infidels by all means ... even if armed infidels and unintended victims - women and children - are killed together," he said in an audiotape released in May.