‘Almost impossible to prevent’

PARIS — Despite Jordan’s experience in foiling sophisticated terror plots, experts said on Thursday that no amount of preparation could have prevented the kind of suicide attacks that have struck the country.

The country’s secret services have broken up a string of Al Qaeda-linked plots in the past, including one targeting central Amman in April 2004, involving 20 tonnes of explosives and chemicals, enough to kill thousands.

These intelligence successes have led extremists to shift tactics, using lone suicide bombers able to slip through the net, argued Louis Caprioli, former head of counterterrorism at France’s domestic intelligence agency.

As in London in July, Madrid in March 2004, or Casablanca in May 2003, Wednesday’s attacks in Jordan, one of the closest US allies in the Middle East, were carried out by lone bombers.

“A new strategy is at work: It no longer relies on complex organisations, that are vulnerable and easy to infiltrate, instead it casts a new pool of volunteers straight into violent action,” argued Caprioli.

“This is a new kind of terrorist, who have no connection with the traditional networks that are under constant watch.

“When they are connected, it is through links so remote that they are not seen as priorities, buried in the immense amounts of information that is handled by the intelligence services,” he said.

Magnus Ranstorp, of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University in Scotland agreed that extremists had “drawn the lessons” from the failed plot of April 2004.

“It was a complex operation, aiming at the heart of the GID (secret services). Twenty tonnes of explosives, a big budget, too many people, with foreigners, and of course it was foiled,” he said.

Alain Chouet, a former French head of foreign intelligence, also saw the move towards suicide bombings as a way of circumventing the security apparatus.

“For elaborate plots, with networks and branches to work back up,” the Jordanian security service performed its job. “The Jordanians are very good.”

“For attacks carried out by isolated individuals, this works less well. The net is never tight enough. What can you do to prevent a lone man from walking into a hotel lobby?” he asked.

“He can always slip through the net,” Chouet said.

Ranstorp suggested that countries could follow Egypt’s example, placing metal detectors at the entrance of top hotels, but he said individuals could easily circumvent such security by seeking employment in the hotel.

“You can harden a little bit, but you can’t guarantee absolute security.”

Wednesday’s strikes shattered the calm of one of the region’s most stable states that was previously considered a safe haven from the turmoil of neighbouring Iraq.

The last militant strike in Jordan was a rocket attack in August targeting US warships in the Red Sea Port of Aqaba that the authorities blamed on Zarqawi’s group.

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