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Jordanian intelligence helped thwart attacks, sources say

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jordan played a key role in thwarting terrorist attacks on two hotels in the Jordanian resort town of Petra, allegedly timed to coincide with the September assaults on the United States, sources said.

Three men allegedly involved in the plot were apprehended following the interception of a phone call, placed a few days before the September 11 attacks, according to sources close to Jordanian intelligence. The call included the phrase "big wedding," al Qaeda code to launch an attack.

CNN's Mike Boettcher says Jordan's intelligence network began picking up information on al Qaeda as early as 1989 (November 19)

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The sources said that same call invoked the "bayat," a personal oath of allegiance to Osama Bin Laden.

The three men, according to coalition intelligence sources, told authorities about the plot against Jordan after they were arrested.

The call came from Afghanistan and was placed to a suspected al Qaeda cell in Jordan. The information was passed onto Western intelligence sources.

Although the worldwide crackdown on terrorism shifted into high gear after September 11, cooperation among international intelligence agencies pre-dates those attacks.

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Jordan has become key in the intelligence war against al Qaeda, according to coalition sources, because it recognized in 1989 that returning Arab veterans of the Soviet Afghan war, known as Arab-Afghans, were coming home with new plans.

Close intelligence cooperation between the United States and Jordan dates to 1990 when the late King Hussein warned U.S. leaders about the emergence of a network in Afghanistan headed by bin Laden.

Officials said those close ties have continued under the reign of Hussein's son, King Abdullah. He ascended to the throne after his father's death in 1999.

"The unsung heroes in intelligence terms are the Jordanians," said terrorism expert professor Magnus Ransdorp of St. Andrews University. "The Jordanian track record, given the size of the country, is mammoth, in terms of the contribution to our understanding of the al Qaeda network."

Suspected al Qaeda members already have been convicted in Jordanian military court of trying to launch a similar simultaneous attack against the United States and Jordan during millennium celebrations almost two years ago.

Early last month, yet another terrorist plan to bomb the U.S., British and Jordanian embassies in Beirut, Lebanon, was uncovered by Jordanian authorities, according to coalition intelligence sources.

--CNN National Correspondent Mike Boettcher contributed to this report


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