Attackers Fire Missiles at U.S. Navy Ship

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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - Attackers fired at least three rockets from Jordan early Friday, with one narrowly missing a docked U.S. Navy ship and killing a Jordanian soldier. It was the most serious militant attack on the Navy since the USS Cole was bombed in 2000.

Another rocket fell close to a nearby airport in neighboring Israel, officials said. Jordanian and Israeli authorities said militants fired the Katyusha rockets from a warehouse in the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba.

A group linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility in an Internet statement. The statement purportedly from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades could not immediately be verified.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said two American amphibious ships attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were docked in Aqaba, about 210 miles south of the capital, Amman, when the rockets were fired toward them.

One rocket sailed over the bow of the USS Ashland and slammed into a Jordanian army warehouse at the port, killing soldier Ahmed Jamal Saleh, a Jordanian security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The soldier died in an ambulance taking him to hospital, while another unidentified Jordanian also was wounded, the official said.

The rocket flew over the USS Ashland's bow at about 8:44 a.m. and left an 8-foot-hole in the warehouse roof, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown told The Associated Press. The U.S. military also used the warehouse, which stored goods bound for Iraq, according to Jordanian authorities.

No American sailors or Marines were injured in the attacks on the vessels, which were participating in exercises with the Jordanian military and had docked at the mouth of the Red Sea port earlier this week.

The Ashland and another vessel later sailed out of port as a result of the attacks, Brown said.

(AP) The Dock Landing Ship USS Ashland (LSD-48) is pushed away from the pier Jan. 12, 2003, at Little...

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Navy Cmdr. Jeff Breslau said security measures employed by the Navy after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors were in place in Jordan.

"When we pull in, we work very closely with the host nation to conduct a threat assessment in the area," Breslau told CNN by telephone from Bahrain.

The Abdullah Azzam group was among several that claimed responsibility for previous attacks on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, including the Oct. 7 car bombing of a hotel in the resort of Taba, which borders Israel, and the July 23 Sharm el-Sheik bombings that killed at least 64 people.

"A group of our holy warriors ... targeted a gathering of American military ships docking in Aqaba port and also in Eilat port with three Katyusha rockets and the warriors returned safe to their headquarters," the statement said.

The attacks come amid a time of tension in the region marked by Israel's withdrawal from the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the Egyptian attacks. Islamic extremists have long criticized Jordan's U.S.-allied moderate government for its peace treaty with Israel and close ties with the West.

The three Katyusha rockets - weapons routinely used by Palestinian militants and Lebanon's Hezbollah group in attacks against Israel - were fired from an Aqaba warehouse rented this week by four people holding Egyptian and Iraqi nationalities, Jordan's state-run Petra news agency reported citing preliminary investigations.

Police launched a massive search for the four, cordoning off the coastal city at the northern tip of the Red Sea. Police helicopters hovered overhead, scouring the rugged desert terrain for the suspects as security forces stopped cars to check identities.

The Jordanian official said another missile landed near a public hospital about a mile away from the port. It was unclear if there were any casualties or damages caused.

In neighboring Israel's Red Sea resort of Eilat, police and witnesses said a Katyusha rocket slammed into a taxi traveling near the city's airport, but it did not explode.

"I heard a noise, the car shook, and I kept driving for two more meters (yards)," said Israeli cab driver Meir Farhan, 40, who suffered mild wounds. "I didn't realize what it was, (but) when I went out of the car I saw a hole in the ground on the asphalt."

The rocket left a small crater in the road about 15 yards from the Eilat airport fence, local police commander Avi Azulin said.

Aqaba and Eilat are about nine miles apart and located on either side of the Jordan-Israeli border.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking in southern Israel, said the attacks were "intended to hit the Israeli side and the Jordanian side as well."

Jordan, which is home to 1.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and Israel signed a 1994 peace deal.

The Katyusha rockets are a largely inaccurate unguided weapon that have been used by Palestinian militias in attacks on Israel plus during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war by most parties to that conflict. The 127mm Katyusha rocket has a range of up to 17 miles.

The Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah is known to possess several thousand Katyusha rockets and has used them to attack Israeli positions along Lebanon's southern border with the Jewish state.

Aqaba, once a sleepy city, has grown into a regional tourist attraction for mainly eastern Europeans and U.S. and other military personnel serving in Iraq and seeking a short respite from the battlefield.

A ferry service also operates regularly between Egypt's Sinai peninsula port of Nuweiba and the Jordanian resort across the small stretch of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Jordan's King Abdullah II has transformed Aqaba into a free trade zone in 2001, attracting investments that include chains of American fast-food joints.

Iraq, whose ports have been damaged in wars since the late 1980s, also often uses Aqaba for imports from the Far East and Asia. U.S. warships also use Aqaba as a refueling stop.

 

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