AMMAN, Jordan, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Eleven Jordanians were held in an alleged al-Qaida-linked plot to attack civilian and government targets in Amman, including the U.S. Embassy, officials said.
"These 11 terrorists were Jordanian nationals with clear ties to al-Qaida targeting the security and stability of Jordan," Samih Maaytah, minister of state for media affairs and communications, told a news conference in Amman, The Jordan Times reported Monday.
Maaytah said the suspects are believed to have consulted with al-Qaida weapons experts in Iraq on the Internet and to have traveled to Syria where they obtained explosives and rockets to be used in attacks, the newspaper said.
The alleged two-pronged plot -- which officials said could have killed hundreds of citizens and foreigners -- called first for coordinated suicide bombings of shopping malls and cafes in the Jordanian capital as a diversionary tactic to draw police and security attention, the Jordan news agency Petra reported.
The simultaneous attacks would be followed by the plotters' main target -- government buildings and embassies in southern Amman's affluent Abdoun district, the report said.
Those buildings would be barraged with mortar shells and militia-style guerrilla tactics, it said, citing a government statement.
A Western official briefed on details of the plot told The Washington Post the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy was among the targets.
The State Department had no immediate comment on the plot and declined to confirm or deny accounts the embassy had been on the list.
Security sources told The Jordan Times the British Embassy was also a potential target.
When the arrests were made by Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate, part of the armed forces, the group was in the process of choosing suicide bombers, Maaytah said.
The intelligence service seized computers, cameras and forged documents, he said
Maayteh said despite the links to Syria the foiled terror plot would not affect ties between Damascus and Amman, stressing his country's approach to Syria "remains unchanged," the newspaper said.
Jordan is an important U.S. ally and has a peace treaty with neighboring Israel. A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declined to comment to The New York Times Sunday night if Israeli intelligence had helped Jordanian authorities in the case.
The alleged plotters were described by Jordan as "supporters" of al-Qaida in Iraq, an al-Qaida branch founded in 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. The franchise was first led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The suspects' foiled plot had allegedly sought to eclipse a series of coordinated bomb attacks Zarqawi ordered on Amman Nov. 9, 2005, that killed 60 people and injured 115 others in three hotels. The suspects' group called itself 11-9 the Second, evidently referring to the numerical way of spelling out Nov. 9.
Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in 2006.
Officials did not say if the alleged conspirators had planned to carry out their foiled attack Nov. 9.
They had been staking out locations for at least four months and had amassed a stockpile of explosives and weapons from Syrian battlefields, Maaytah said.