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Rockets narrowly miss 2 U.S. Navy ships

JERUSALEM—A group linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility Friday for a three-rocket attack that missed two U.S. Navy ships docked in the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

No Americans were injured, according to a Navy spokesman, but it was the most serious attack on U.S. naval vessels since 17 sailors died and 39 were wounded in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which was the work of al-Qaida.

One of the three Katyusha rockets launched from Jordan hit Israeli territory near the airport in Eilat, nearly adjacent to Aqaba.

One Jordanian soldier was killed in the volley of rocket fire, another was injured and an Israeli civilian sustained minor injuries.

Several hours later, a statement issued by an al-Qaida-linked group called the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility.

One rocket fired at the American ships flew over the bow of the amphibious USS Ashland and struck a warehouse, according to a spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain. Also in port at Aqaba was the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship.

A second rocket fell near a hospital in Aqaba, about a mile from the ships.

Both vessels, which had been engaged in joint exercises with Jordanian forces, sailed away after the attack and were at undisclosed locations at sea, a Navy spokesman said.

Cmdr. Charlie Brown said the attack hadn't otherwise affected operations for the 5th Fleet, which includes about 30 U.S. warships. Normal security precautions would continue, he said.

After examining the situation at each port, Brown said, "We will continue to perform our maritime security operations and to conduct port visits as required."

The Kearsarge usually carries a crew of 1,100 and can carry a Marine detachment of 1,900; the Ashland usually carries 350 crew members and can transport a Marine detachment of about 400.

Jordan's state-run Petra news agency said the rockets were fired from a rented warehouse in Aqaba and authorities were hunting for four people with Egyptian and Iraqi nationalities.

In Israel, the third rocket left a small crater in a road near the airport at the resort city of Eilat. A taxi driver who was passing through the area received minor injuries, Israeli officials said.

Aqaba and Eilat sit at the northern edge of the Red Sea along the Jordanian-Israeli border.

The statement by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades said its members fired three Katyusha rockets that "targeted a gathering of American military ships." The group has claimed responsibility for other attacks, including bombings July 23 in Sharm el-Sheik, an Egyptian resort in the Sinai.

The claim couldn't be verified.

Katyusha is the name for a wide variety of relatively inaccurate, unguided rockets that were first produced in the Soviet Union during the 1930s.

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(Drew Brown contributed to this report from Washington.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060819 Jordan attacks

ARCHIVE GRAPHIC on KRT Direct (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20031029 Katyusha rocket

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