Built on rolling hills and steep gullies, the city is quickly being transformed into a pan-Arab mecca, a beacon of refuge for more than a million Iraqis fleeing their war-torn country and more recently a temporary haven for thousands of displaced Lebanese families.
But on November 9, 2005, this cultural melting pot nearly came to a boil when three five-star hotels were struck by powerful blasts which killed 60 people and injured more than 300.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed that four of its members carried out the attacks to hit “enemies of the faith, Jews and Crusaders” who congregated in Amman.
The hardest, and for Jordanians, the most tragic attack occurred at the Radisson SAS Hotel, where a suicide bomber killed 27 guests attending a wedding.
A former Jordanian intelligence officer, who did not wish to be identified for this report, provided me with a tour of the hotel pointing to where the bomber had first entered the premises, undeterred … unchecked.
The man sat down in the foyer outside the banquet hall before stepping into the festive crowd. Minutes later he detonated his explosive charges killing and maiming the people inside. The bride’s mother was among the dead.
“The attack was carefully designed to cause the maximum death, the maximum tragedy, to try and disrupt the social harmony in this country,” the ex-intelligence officer said.
“However, they failed.”
Shaken, but standing
Jordanian police eventually captured an Iraqi woman who admitted she was part of the plot and in late September, a court sentenced her to death for her role.
But despite an outward appearance that Jordan has recovered from the attacks and is looking forward, tension with the mushrooming Iraqi population in Jordan is evident.
In Al-Gardens Steet, near the Al-Waha Circle, where thousands of Iraqis have rented apartments, a casual stroll might conjure up images of Baghdad.
Traffic congestion with Iraqi licence-plated cars bumper to bumper, Iraqi music blasting from shops, Iraqi tribal leaders having ice cream outside a famous masgouf (Iraqi fish dish) eatery – one cannot escape the consistent Iraqi flux into the Hashemite capital.
But appearances are not as subtle: armed soldiers patrol the streets and as one Iraqi revealed, there is a heavy presence of unmarked cars manned by intelligence officers.
“I was sitting minding my own business fidgeting with my digital camera when a man who said he was a security officer came up to me and asked me my name, my tribe and when I had come to Amman,” Faris Abdel-Hadi, 26, said.
Following the bombings, Jordanian authorities introduced new security restrictions on Iraqis entering the country.
These have been moderated and usually spike in summer months when thousands of Iraqis choose Amman or Damascus as their vacation spots.
The worst attacks in Jordan’s
Iraqi men between the ages of 18 and 40 are usually not allowed into the kingdom, particularly if they are alone.
Security checks and screening along the border can take hours and sometimes entire families are turned back.
Many Iraqis say they fear recriminations should another attack occur and say they have nowhere to go but Jordan, which because of its proximity and historically close cultural ties is seen as a natural destination.
“Jordan has done as much as it can for the Iraqis,” says Nour Kefafy.
“I love it here but I wish things were easier .. why did the terrorists have to chase us here?”
The Jordanian security expert says the country is recovering and that people want to forget what happened and move forward.
“Ili faat, maat (What has transpired, is long gone),” he says indicating there is no point dwelling on the past.
He says Jordan has a bright future ahead of it but acknowledges there is a new approach to how security of sensitive landmarks and buildings is viewed.
There is an elevated level of alertness both on the streets of Amman and in the hotels, restaurants and celebration halls. Armed guards stand before the entrance of every hotel and highly advanced metal detectors greet visitors to even two and three-star hotels.
At the Radisson SAS, cars must detour away from the hotel to the parking lot where they are checked for explosives behind metal barricades. No cars can park next to the building entrance itself.
Tareq Al Naser, director of sales and marketing at the Radisson SAS, says safety and security have become the number one concern for the city, particularly from a tourism point of view.
“After September 11, 2001, hotels in Amman may have had four security guards, but now after what happened last year here there could be up to 30 security guards at any one point … surveillance has been upgraded,” he told Aljazeera.net.
He said hotels which were looking to lure tourists to Jordan have spent millions of dollars on training staff in the newest security measures, installing surveillance equipment, resorting to foreign expertise and beefing up the number of armed and unarmed security personnel.
In the first few days after the attacks – referred to as the 9-11 Amman bombings – there were protests and demonstrations in the capital condemning the attacks and terrorism at large.
Amman, a quiet and usually sleepy city, was awakened by the deadly terrorist blasts, its innocence instantly shattered. The war in Iraq had suddenly come home and seemed to be spilling from across the border. It was no longer “the war over there”.
Although weddings were suddenly cancelled and parties were held at home for the first few weeks rather than risk resorting to banquet halls, Jordanians supported the stricken hotels with publicity drives and awareness campaigns.
On the blogs, in the chatrooms and in interviews with foreign media, ordinary Jordanians sought to dispel the notion their country had become a terrorist target.
In a charity effort to help the victims and survivors of the attacks, some $2 million were raised. Slowly, tourists started to return to the city and package tours – once dried up to nil – picked up again in the spring following the attacks.
Firas Mniemneh, general manager of the Radisson SAS, believes that no matter what is done to alleviate the pain left in the wake of the attacks, Jordanians will not forget.
“But they can overcome … pull together and move forward.”
Mniemneh, a Lebanese citizen, says he believes in the potential Jordan has as a meeting place for Arabs and Westerners.
“We believe in this country,” he said.