Murder of US envoy shows anti-Bush feeling is spreading

29 October 2002

No one was surprised. That was the terrible, incontrovertible fact about the murder of American diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman yesterday.

Gunned down – apparently with a silenced pistol – in the garden of his home, a 62-year-old in the US Agency for International Development mission, Mr Foley was not an obvious target, a genuine civilian in the sometimes sinister world of international diplomacy who was walking to his car in a middle-class suburb of the Jordanian capital when someone fired eight bullets into him from a 7mm gun.

“Why should ordinary people get killed and punished for the crimes of their leaders?” a female Jordanian neighbour said afterwards. And therein lies a clue to this murder. Jordanians – “our” Arabs, friends of the West whose Plucky Little King Mk II, King Abdullah, went to Sandhurst – now find it natural to refer to the “crimes” of President Bush.

Amman is burning with anger at the United States and its threats against Iraq. More than half of Jordan’s population is Palestinian and America’s unconditional support for Ariel Sharon’s Israeli government has embittered many of them; demonstrators have often called for the end of Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

Mr Foley’s wife called the police when she found her husband lying in the garden; he died instantly from bullets in the head, chest and abdomen.

Marwan Muasher, the Jordanian foreign minister, went to the vast US embassy complex – built on a hill on the outskirts of Amman and once mockingly described by the late king Hussein as “the CIA’s headquarters in the Middle East” – to present his condolences. “The Jordanian government is going to deal seriously with this horrible crime,” he said.

But that’s what the Jordanians said when an Israeli diamond merchant, Yitzhak Snir, was shot dead outside his home in Amman 14 months ago.

That’s also what they said when an Iraqi diplomat was murdered in Amman and when a car bomb exploded close to the home of a senior Jordanian security official. Jordanian courts sentenced 28 Arabs for planning a poison gas and explosives attack on American and Israeli tourists at New Year in 2000.

Amman is no longer a place where Americans can feel safe.

Mr Foley’s murder came at a time when Jordanians have been angered by a death sentence passed in Qatar on Firas Majali, a Jordanian accused of spying and passing information on US troop movements in the Gulf emirate, where Washington maintains a massive and ever-enlarging air base for use in a possible war against Iraq.

Protests at the sentence have been staged in Amman by Mr Majali’s tribal family but the most remarkable element of the case is that the Qatar court sentenced the local television employee for sending the intelligence information not to Al-Qa’ida but to Jordan’s own intelligence service.

If that is true, why would Jordan want information on the build-up of US troops in Qatar? And – more to the point – with whom would it wish to share such information? Or was this merely a little bit of intimidation after Jordan recalled its ambassador to Qatar following a programme on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television which offended Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy?

Most sensitive of all right now is this same monarchy, and the widespread rumours that the Americans would like a Hashemite to become “king of Iraq” after a US invasion. “King” Hassan, the former crown prince, perhaps? After all, the British originally placed the Hashemites on the Iraqi throne after the First World War had ended.

So the innocent Mr Foley has become another victim of the Middle East’s earthquake. Jordan is a gentle country with a gentle people and – believe it or not – a gentle monarchy. But it lives in dangerous times and violence is a symptom of that danger.

Middle East correspondent for London's Independent, often outspoken and out of step with the rest of the mainstream media