CAIRO, Egypt, AP – Contributors to Islamic Web sites known for enthusiastically supporting al-Qaida have reacted angrily and with unprecedented criticism to last week”s hotel bombings in Jordan.
The sites say that the targeting of Muslims and the public outrage that followed have damaged the reputation of the insurgent group.
One regular contributor suggested Monday that al-Qaida in Iraq, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings that killed 60 people, reconsider its mistakes. Another writer, in an article published on several sites, directly criticized group leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and offered him advice for the next attack.
The postings were a startling turn for the Web sites, where anonymous or pseudonymed writers regularly glorify al-Qaida”s terrorist operations in discussion forums and where religious propaganda — including recruitment attempts — and militant statements are posted.
"We are shedding tears of blood because of the many negative aspects attached to the operation," wrote Sami, who frequently contributes to Islamic forums. "I swear to God it was a big mistake in which al-Qaida will pay a heavy price."
An article by a writer calling himself Al-Murshid, or "The Guide," appeared on several sites, urging al-Zarqawi to avoid any "military operation" that might harm innocent Muslims.
"This is both a (religious) task and a pragmatic tactic. … Acts where many innocent Muslims lose their lives make us lose a lot of popular support," he wrote. "The death of the innocent Muslims in this attack … was a fact that lived with each Jordanian. Now people say al-Qaida kills innocent Muslims."
In the days after the triple hotel bombings residents of Amman and other cities in Jordan held angry protests condemning al-Qaida in Iraq and demanding al-Zarqawi”s death. Arabs account for more than half the 60 people killed, who included three Iraqi suicide bombers.
The vehement protests — in which thousands shouted "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" and "Death to al-Zarqawi, the villain and the traitor!" — led the group to issue a second statement to justify the killing of Muslims, alleging that the hotels were dens for Western and Israeli intelligence agents.
Contributor Fawz Al Islam said the attack made the media "portray the mujahedeen as cannibals. I have noticed a split (in opinion) in many jihad Web sites."
Other writers accused al-Qaida of being too hasty in issuing the claim of responsibility, particularly because the mention of a female bomber led Jordanian intelligence to search for the woman after finding the bodies of three male bombers only. The female suspect was arrested on Sunday and gave a televised statement about her role in the attacks.
"The thing that most saddened me was the organization”s insistence on issuing three statements about the operation, which only benefited the enemies of the nation on military, information and field aspects," al-Murshid wrote in his article, which was highlighted on one site with four stars to draw attention to it.
He also criticized the selection of the venue, timing and means of the attacks, and suggested that light weapons should be used in attacks to avoid killing innocent people.
Al-Murshid advised al-Zarqawi to work to regain the confidence of his supporters by announcing that "the killing of Muslims has saddened the organization and that shedding Muslims” blood is forbidden."
"Muslims in Jordan are the ones who best realize the effect of Amman”s explosions on ordinary people and (al-Zarqawi) cannot fully realize that effect," he said.
A contributor signed Prime Negotiator agreed, lamenting the fallout in Jordan.
"Go to Amman and hear, unfortunately, a lot of people cursing al-Zarqawi everywhere," he wrote. "With this act, al-Qaida destroyed its great assets of Jordanian appreciation for its jihad in Iraq."
The protests against the attacks were held even in al-Zarqawi”s hometown of Zarqa and the southern city of Maan, known to be a hub for Muslim fundamentalists.
"The Jordanian people”s confidence in al-Qaida became zero," Prime Negotiator wrote, complaining that the only beneficiaries of the attacks were Jordanian intelligence, the CIA and Israel”s Mossad.