Reports said two of the rockets hit a hospital and warehouse in Jordan, while a third struck next to an airport in the nearby Israeli port city of Eilat. A Jordanian soldier on guard duty at the warehouse was killed by the blast, which left an 8-foot hole in the roof of the building. The warehouse is reportedly used to store U.S. supplies en route to Iraq.
Jordanian security forces were reportedly searching for three men in connection with the attacks. A source told the Reuters news service that the attackers were a Syrian and two Iraqis.
A group calling itself Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades of the al Qaeda Organization in the Levant and Egypt claimed responsibility for the attack in a Web site posting. The Levant is a historical name for a region that includes Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan.
“A group of our holy warriors … targeted a gathering of American military ships docking in Aqaba port and also in Eilat port with three Katyusha rockets and the warriors returned safe to their headquarters,” the group’s statement said.
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the United States is “working with the Jordanians and the Israelis to find out who is responsible. Both those countries are strong allies in the war on terror and we will continue to cooperate closely.”
The two targeted American ships had been in Aqaba since Aug. 13 for joint training exercises with the Jordanian military. After the attacks, the ships weighed anchor and headed for open water.
The ships, the USS Ashland and USS Kearsage, are attached to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. A Navy spokesman said one of the rockets narrowly missed the Ashland.
“I can confirm that a rocket flew over the bow of USS Ashland and the rocket impacted in the roof of a warehouse. No sailors or Marines were injured,” Commander Jeff Breslau of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain told Reuters. “It’s pretty safe to conclude that they were probably trying to hit one or both of the ships.”
The Associated Press reported that the weapons fired at the ships were Katyusha rockets, a model often used by Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups.
The rockets were apparently fired from a warehouse in Aqaba, rented by Egyptians and Iraqis, the Jordanian news service reported.
Militants have successfully attacked two other Navy ships in recent years. In 2000, suicide boat bombers attacked the USS Cole while it took on fuel in a Yemeni port, killing 17 sailors. In April 2004, militants attacked the USS Firebolt as it guarded an Iraqi oil platform, killing three sailors.
According to a Navy Web site, the USS Ashland is an “amphibious warfare ship designed to transport Marines and their combat gear throughout the world and then to launch and support assault landing craft and helicopters during amphibious operations against hostile shores.”
The USS Kearsage is a command ship of an Amphibious Ready Group and is designed to deploy a landing force of Marines, vehicles and aircraft. The ship carries about 2,000 personnel and can transport and deploy Harrier jet fighters.
Breslau said the ships will be “out to sea in the area and will decide what to do from there.”
The ships are based in Norfolk, Va.