ZARQA, Jordan - A visit to the mosque that terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attended as a child suggests that the Al Qaeda figure made a big mistake in plotting Amman's triple bombings of 11/9.
The sermon Friday at the al-Falah mosque from Imam Mustafa Suleiman was, in his words, about "the criminality of the attacks and how they were not in keeping with Islam." Mr. Suleiman said that from now on he will no longer allow Salafis, members of the ultra-religious sect of Sunni Islam percolating largely from Saudi Arabia, into his house of worship. After mid-morning prayers Friday, he even urged his minions to cooperate with Jordan's intelligence services when they come asking.
The explosions Wednesday in three downtown hotels in the Jordanian capital changed this country in many ways, but perhaps most significant is that it has unified a nation against the Jordanian born Mr. al-Zarqawi. In the past, Jordanians have shown some sympathy for his activities in Iraq.
Only hours after the suicide bombings Wednesday, citizens marched silently in the streets in solidarity with the victims. Banners damning Mr. al- Zarqawi and his band to hell hang on storefronts and apartment buildings. But the effect of the bombings is perhaps best observed in the hometown of the man who ordered them.
When asked about Zarqa's most notorious son, Mr. Suleiman's craggy face tightened under his red and white headdress and he pointed holes in the air to emphasize his disdain. "Zarqawi is kufr," Mr. Suleiman said, using the Arabic word for a nonbeliever, the preferred slur of Islamic fundamentalists like Mr. al-Zarqawi who favor it when speaking of infidels.
After a visit to the scene of the bombings, one can understand the imam's rage. On Friday morning, the ceiling of the Radisson SAS Hotel's main banquet hall was still a shambles of loose wire and gaping ventilation ducts. The carpet was covered in dust. Large piles of crumbled wall were mixed in with shattered glass, silverware, and the remains of a wedding that ended with the fathers of both the wife and the husband dead. Next to the wedding site on a raised stage, someone placed a picture of the late King Hussein.
Mr. Suleiman said Mr. al-Zarqawi's family, whose surname is Khaleylah, still attends his mosque, and that they have all but disowned him. "Everyone here is ashamed of him, even his family," the imam said. The hilly neighborhood of Massoum where Mr. al-Zarqawi grew up as Ahmed Khadil Khaleylah is still considered a rougher part of this city of 1 million. The apartment buildings are separated by lots of decomposing concrete buildings that host feral cats and stray dogs. Mr. Suleiman described Mr. al-Zarqawi as a "street kid" who was "always getting into trouble" as a teenager. "One time he was sent to jail and he was only released when his family pleaded with King Hussein's office to spare his life. I wish the king had not shown mercy then," the imam said.
Members of the Khaleylah clan were for the most part not talking to reporters. Approximately 15,000 Khaleylahs reside in Zarqa, and it is easy to find young men who claimed to be Mr. al-Zarqawi's distant cousins and were willing to say all manner of things about the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, both pro and con. Some blamed the Israelis for the attack, citing an Internet rumor that Jews were warned ahead of the blasts to leave the hotels. But members of the terrorist's immediate family have avoided journalists.
One advertising salesman said over sweet tea at his home that he believes the terrorists were not Al Qaeda in Iraq but the "Shiites from Iran." When reminded of Jordan's recent counterterrorism agreement with the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad, he said, "People break agreements all the time. Look at Israel."
Mr. Suleiman was not the only imam to feature a sermon against the terrorism of 11/9. At the abu Gaud Mosque here, the Friday sermon focused on the story of Cain and Abel. "It was about the wickedness of murder," the imam, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "It was about the senselessness of killing our brothers." At the al-Aziz mosque here, the sermon centered on respect for life and the law, according to a man who attended the sermon.
Many observers here expect that sermons glorifying terror will come to an abrupt halt in Jordanian mosques as a facet of the government's new war on Mr. al-Zarqawi. The minister of religious affairs, Abdu elSalam alAbadi, told The New York Sun in an interview here Sunday that the ministry's surveillance of mosques will continue. "The ministry will continue throughout normal channels and its preaching committee to rise to the challenge and continue doing its own work that shows how Islam is really against these activities, how Jordan is ruled by laws and how these campaigns launched to deform the face of Islam will not succeed," he said.
The editor of the Jordanian daily newspaper Al-Ghad, Ayman Safadi, said yesterday, "We have tolerated the voices here who justify and apologize for the killing in Iraq. But this era has ended."
In Mr. al-Zarqawi's old neighborhood, Mr. Suleiman concurred. "My speech this week was to damn the terrorists and my speech next week will be damn the terrorists. I will keep saying this until it stops."