Al Qaeda rockets aimed at Israel hit Jordanian port city

Published 23 April 2010

Al Qaeda terrorists fire two Grad rockets from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai peninsula at the Israeli resort town of Eilat, at the northern tip of the Red Sea; the rocket miss Eilat — one hit the neighboring Jordanian port city of Aqaba, the second fell into the sea; in 2005 al Qaeda terrorists used the same area of the Sinai to fire Katyusha rockets at a U.S. warship docked in the port of Aqaba

Jordanian officials confirmed that a rocket launched from outside the country struck a refrigerated warehouse the Red Sea port city of Aqaba. The confirmation came after two rockets were fired early Thursday morning from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula toward the southern Israeli city of Eilat. This was the first time a rocket has been fired at the resort town in almost five years.

Jordanian information minister Nabil al-Sharif said initial investigations indicate the rocket was a Russian-designed Grad that was fired from beyond Jordan’s borders. He said authorities continue to look into the explosion to determine exactly from where the missile was launched.

Al-Sharif, who is also a government spokesman, said the rocket damaged a refrigerated warehouse on Aqaba’s northern outskirts. No deaths or injuries were reported.

Aqaba residents reported hearing at least two early morning explosions in the city. Eilat residents also reported hearing explosions at around 5 a.m. An Israeli supervisor at the Sinai border instructed police to close down the crossing and to warn tourists in the area.

Haaretz’s Amos Harel writes that Israeli security forces and police scoured the area, but found no indication of what caused the explosion. Shortly after, the crossing was reopened to traffic. The Israel Defense Forces said searches were conducted in the Eilat area after the reports of explosions, but they had found no evidence of anything landing in Israel.

The incident occurred as jitters were high a week after Israel issued an urgent warning to its citizens to leave Egypt’s nearby Sinai Peninsula immediately, citing concrete evidence of an expected terrorist attempt to kidnap Israelis in Sinai. Israel’s anti-terror office, which issued the warning, maintains a standing travel advisory telling Israelis to stay out of the Sinai desert because of the threat of terror attacks.

An Egyptian security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information to the media, denied reports that rockets were fired from Sinai on Thursday.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was in neighboring Egypt on Thursday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. It was not immediately clear whether the leaders would discuss the attack.

The damaged warehouse was at an industrial complex at the entrance of Aqaba, 350 kilometers south of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Harel writes that in 2005, al Qaeda terrorists used the area to fire Katyusha rockets at a U.S. warship docked in the port there. The rockets missed the ship but hit a Jordanian military warehouse, killing a Jordanian soldier. Eight al Qaeda terrorists were arrested and later received prison terms ranging from seven years to death sentences.

In 2001 Jordan’s security forces captured Hezbollah activists from Lebanon who planned to fire missiles at Eilat from Aqaba. A year later, an unknown Beirut-based organization said it was planning to bomb several areas in Israel from Jordan, including Eilat, Beit She’an, and Tiberias.

The Grad, known as the BM-21 Grad, is a truck-mounted 122-mm multiple rocket launcher developed in the early 1960s in the Soviet Union. Military experts say its maximum range is 40 kilometers (25 miles).

Israel’s defense establishment and the Jordanian security forces coordinated an investigation into the incident, after initial reports Thursday placed the source of the rockets in southern Jordan. No group has yet taken responsibility for the attack.

Eilat, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, is a popular resort for Israelis and foreign holiday-makers. It was largely spared the violence faced by other Israeli cities during the intifada and subsequent years. The city was hit in January 2007 by a suicide bomber, killing three people