I arrived back in Amman yesterday and tonight I was seeing friends at Al Saraya hotel when we heard the news about the bombing at the Radisson Hotel. By the time I arrived there with Ra’fat, my friend and fixer when I was in Amman before travelling to Baghdad, and Francis, a fellow filmmaker, the security was already tight.
At the time we arrived, the word was that five people had been killed in the bombing at the Radisson. Soon after we arrived, we got word that the Hyatt had also been bombed. Some time later we were informed that the Days Inn on the outskirts of Amman was also struck by a bomb.
It now appears that a suicide bomber entered the Radisson Hotel, where a wedding party was taking place. Another journalist in Amman has just been informed that the bombing at the Radisson killed at least two family members of a friend. His friend was informed by Jordanian authorities to go to the morgue and look for his mother, who is missing. His 15-year-old sister and 30-year-old aunt have both been confirmed killed at the Radisson.
The situation outside the Radisson was tense, with heavily armed Jordanian Police everywhere, as well as plainclothes Jordanian Intelligence officers covering the area. In Jordan, there is no freedom of the press, and when we arrived at the scene, there were more than a couple scuffles with Jordanian Police shouting “Mamnou mamnou!” at us, which means “Forbidden, forbidden.” A short while later, we learned that a Jordanian freelance journalist was arrested by Jordanian Intelligence for filming before we were able to catch up with him.
He was filming the arrest of Iraqis in a GMC who had been speeding by the Radisson before being surrounded by Jordanian Police and detained. While in Jordanian Intelligence custody, this journalist saw the Iraqis abused by the officers and was himself struck hard in the shoulder. Because he has a contact in the Intelligence, he was able to safely leave their custody, only slightly more worse the for wear. Unfortunately, a reporter from Al Jazeera wasn’t so lucky. “The police beat him with a thick army belt while he was filming,” claimed the journalist.
I was nearly arrested three times for filming and also simply for being in the area with a camera.
I am leaving Amman in a few hours to return to the States due to a lack of funds currently, as well as family affairs. I am looking forward to a short respite in the States, and am hoping to make several speaking events to raise funds and awareness to continue the project.
I also leave the Middle East with a heavy heart. After today’s events in Amman, which has not seen any similar type of attack since the ’70s, it seems there may be no place in the Middle East that is safe. On the day I left Baghdad, Omar’s girlfriend’s college, the Technical University, had a suicide bomber blow himself up inside the school. The day before this the father of another friend of Omar’s was shot by criminals, but luckily survived.
I am left to wonder how long until one of the many friends I have made here finds him- or herself killed or injured in a similar attack. The situation all over the Middle East appears to continue on a path toward instability, and nothing the US or others are doing appears to be helping. Hopefully, by continuing to work toward raising awareness of the true situation in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, and to encourage tolerance, I can help in some small way to improve the situation.