American diplomat shot to death outside Jordanian capital

A By Michael Matza

aMMAN, Jordan (KRT) – A U.S. diplomat was killed Monday morning in Amman as he was preparing to leave home to go to work at the American embassy.

The diplomat was identified as Laurence Foley, a senior administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency gave his age as 60.

Foley was shot eight times in the head, chest and stomach. Jordanian police said Foley’s wife, Virginia, discovered her husband’s body Monday in a pool of blood in their driveway, near his burgundy Mercedes-Benz.

It was the first killing of a U.S. diplomat since 1998, when 12 Americans died in a bombing at the U.S. embassy in Kenya. That attack was tied to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

No one has claimed responsibility for Foley’s killing, but officials immediately stepped up security at the U.S. embassy. Jordanian soldiers guarded the embassy’s walls and patrolled the perimeter in jeeps mounted with machine guns. The embassy warned Americans in Jordan to take special precautions.

Jordan is an ally of the United States in the Middle East, and it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. But King Abdullah has disagreed with U.S. threats to use military force to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, warning it could unleash unrest throughout the region. The U.S. threats against Iraq also have fueled anti-American sentiment among Jordan’s population, the majority of whom are Palestinian refugees. Jordan also has thousands of Iraqi refugees who fled during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Jordanian government has aggressively pursued Islamic extremists in the kingdom and has offered its assistance to the United States to help infiltrate groups associated with al-Qaida. In 1999, Jordanian officials arrested 28 Arab men and charged them with plotting to use poison gas and explosives to attack Americans and Israelis at tourist sites in Jordan during millennium New Year’s celebrations.

Foley’s work at the embassy should not have made him a prime target for such an attack, said embassy press attache Justin Siberell. Foley had worked for the U.S. government for 37 years, the last 14 for USAID, which dispenses American foreign aid around the world. He provided administrative support for $250 million worth of USAID programs in Jordan, including a clean drinking-water project and a micro-lending arrangement to make community investment money available to small businesses.

U.S. and Jordanian officials said they would investigate every aspect of Foley’s murder, including the possibility that it was the work of terrorists.

Jordanian Information Minister Mohammed Affash Adwan declined to speculate on motives but called the killing “an aggression on Jordan and its national security.” Jordanian officials, led by King Abdullah, pledged to bring the killer to justice.

Jordanian officials said Foley’s murder appeared to be well organized, possibly the work of a professional using a pistol muffled with a silencer. A preliminary review of the evidence suggests the attack was by one assailant, possibly aided by accomplices for the getaway, police said.

Edward Gnehm, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, declined to speculate on a motive. “At this point, we are making no assumptions,” he said.

At a news conference Monday night at the embassy, Gnehm’s voice cracked as he described Foley as a “very dear friend” who began his career in public service in 1965 with the Peace Corps in India. Foley was a juvenile probation officer in California in the 1970s, and held USAID postings in Bolivia, Peru and Zimbabwe. Foley began working in Jordan two years ago. Sunday, he had received a “superior honor award” for commendable service.

“Larry represents the very best of America,” said Gnehm, who extended condolences to Foley’s wife and three grown children living in the United States, Megan, Jeremie and Michael.

Neighbors who gathered to watch U.S. and Jordanian officials dust for fingerprints and search for evidence outside Foley’s home expressed sadness at the death of a man they remembered for his daily walks around the neighborhood with his dog and his joyful greetings in Arabic.