Walking the Streets of Black Wednesday in Amman

New York- While I traveled across much of the width and breadth of the Middle East earlier this year, I shot one vlog in particular that I thought was a bit too dark for my channel and decided to release it as a stand alone episode many months later. Oh and partly I sort of forgot about finishing it because NYC basically.

I wanted to shoot something about the November 2005 suicide bombings in Amman, Jordan’s legendary capital. When most people think terrorism and 2005, I think the London transport attacks would generally come to mind as the principle mass casualty attack that year. It got far more press coverage than this somewhat similar incident in Amman partly because its a major Western capital and the preeminent media hub in the Anglosphere.

So while in Jordan I researched the attack locations as well as a little known memorial to the victims in an off the beaten path park. I remember the attacks as being significant partly because it showed al-Qaeda was perfectly willing to strike in the heartland of the ummah (global Islamic community) as it was in the West aka the ‘far enemy.’ On a personal level, I remember meeting a then very young New York Times photographer during the Lebanon war in the summer of 2006 who got his big break because he happened to be in Amman when the bombings happened (due to having fallen in love with a Jordanian-American photographer ) and when a NYT photo editor did an internet search for photographers based in Amman he came up and the guy has been with the Times ever since.

The bombings were shocking also because Jordan has always been thought of as an oasis of relative tranquility in traditionally turbulent geography. I remember having dinner at the estate of a patrician Jordanian politician in April 2003 while I was in Amman trying to figure out how to get to Baghdad and he described Jordan’s position thusly, “We are situated here between two jihads. Off in the distance in front of us is Palestine, all too often in turmoil while resisting the [Israeli] occupation. Behind us is of course Iraq where the Americans and British are unaware of the chaos they have just created. And here is Jordan quiet in her days but restless in the night.”

“The night” would turn out to be that era’s premiere violent salafi-jihadi who went by the nom de guerre Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the last part denoting that he hailed from the northern Jordanian city of Zarqa. He would be assassinated by the Americans in June 2006 in Iraq but not before he unleashed terror in his homeland that had made peace with the Israelis back in 1994, helped the Americans in their disastrous invasion of Iraq–in which the kingdom profited handsomely–and had once imprisoned him for his doings in petty street crime. The Amman bombings were therefore both ideologically and personally motivated for al-Zarqawi.

Though this would certainly seem to be a rather morbid endeavour, I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life tramping around war zones and the hulking shells of buildings that populate their ruinous hellscapes. For me it’s about documenting the history of the recent past before a city or a particular site changes forever.

Strangely my three plus months in the region was entirely tranquil. I remarked to myself on more than one occasion how there was hardly anything going on anywhere I went from a hard news perspective. The worst that happened to me in Baghdad was a lousy traffic cop demanding a bribe outside the Palestine Hotel while I was on a walk one day.

All the attention was on the horrific war in Ukraine and the Iraq war was a thing of the past. Then we had 7 October in the global media has fixated on the Levant to the point where Ukrainian leaders are vocally worried about the attention to their struggle falling away. And sadly it has. Everyone is talking about Gaza instead of occupied Crimea now.