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ARAB-US RELATIONS - Aug 19 - Group With Al Qaeda Links Fires On US Warships.

A group claiming links to Al Qaeda claims it has fired three rockets at two US warships in the Red Sea port of Aqaba. They missed their apparent targets but killed a Jordanian soldier and hit the adjacent Israeli resort of Eilat. The US ships, USS Ashland and USS Kearsarge, left the port immediately after the attacks on Aug 19 morning. They had been on a joint training exercise with the Jordanian navy. Jordan is an important logistics base for the US military in Iraq. It was reported that the authorities were searching for two Iraqis and a Syrian in connection with the attacks. Three Iraqis and an Egyptian were said to have leased a warehouse in Aqaba from which the rockets were launched just a few days before the attacks. "I can confirm that a rocket flew over the bow of USS Ashland and the rocket impacted on the roof of a warehouse. No sailors or marines were injured", said Commander Jeff Breslau of the US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. "It's pretty safe to conclude that they were probably trying to hit one or both of the ships". The Abdullah Al Azzam Brigades of the Al Qaeda Organisation in the Levant and Egypt said in a statement on an Islamist web site that it had carried out the attacks. The group has also claimed responsibility for previous attacks, including the bombings in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 64 people last month. Israeli defence minister Shaul Mofaz, said the attacks were "intended to hit the Israeli side and the Jordanian side as well". He said Israel was co-operating with Jordan in the investigation. Israel, which signed a peace deal with Jordan in 1994, recently heightened its travel warning to Jordan, saying there was a raised threat against Israeli targets and tourists. Earlier this month, Jordan arrested 17 militants linked to the Al Qaeda network in Iraq and a Saudi group which were said to be plotting to attack US military personnel. Security measures were tightened at Amman airport, sensitive government sites and embassies of countries backing the US military in Iraq. Although Jordan is not a crude exporter, oil rose to over $64 a barrel after Friday's attacks as the market took into account that a strike against an oil tanker in the Middle East was now more likely. Meanwhile, Egypt was reported to have tightened its security along the Suez canal. Aug 19 attacks were the first on a US vessel in the region since three US servicemen were killed on the USS Firebolt when it was defending an Iraqi oil platform in April 2004, said a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet. The attacks coincided with a period of high tension in Israel as security forces this week started to evacuate about 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank as part of its disengagement plan. More than 80% of the Gaza settlers have been evacuated in an operation weeks ahead of schedule.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Aug 20, 2005
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