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Americans in Jordan Seek Low Profile

November 3, 2002

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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Diplomats are surrounded by more guards. American students avoid mentioning where they’re from. Priests pray for peace.

The slaying of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan _ which had been considered an oasis of calm between turbulent neighbors, Israel and Iraq _ has left Westerners, especially the 3,000 Americans, more nervous about their safety and what might happen next.

``There’s a feeling generally that things are changing and not being quite sure what the outcome will be,″ said the Rev. Malcolm White of the Arab-Episcopal Evangelical Church in Amman.

Longtime residents mention visitors who moved up scheduled departures after the shock of Monday’s assassination of Laurence Foley, a U.S. aid agency official, outside his home in Amman.

``One friend was already supposed to go but decided to leave earlier, mainly because of her mother’s fears,″ said Charity Irvine, 23, of Lancaster, Pa., who has been studying Arabic in Jordan since January.

The Rev. Rick Schupp, pastor of the Amman International Church, said another woman bumped up her flight by a week because she didn’t want to sit at home afraid.

``We really enjoy living in Jordan and we feel comfortable,″ said Schupp, who came with his wife, Angie, and children from Peoria, Ill., six years ago. ``But I know there are other folks in the American community who are really quite fearful.″

Jordanian officials say they believe the attack was politically motivated and have questioned dozens of Islamic militants, but report no progress in finding the gunman.

A little known Muslim extremist group claimed responsibility in a letter to a London-based Arabic newspaper and blamed U.S. policies toward Iraq and Israel. But Jordanian officials say they don’t believe the group exists.

Security has been increased for Western diplomats and their families, including plainclothes patrols outside embassies, international schools and churches.

But a Halloween party Thursday night for the International Community School, which has about 250 students from all over the world, went ahead as planned, largely to rally the expatriate community.

``For the children’s sake, no one was going to stop it,″ said the wife of one Western diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Still, she said, while the costumed children danced around a bonfire, the parents all were discussing Foley’s slaying and whether they were safe.

``Now I try to avoid Americans, that’s really sad,″ she said as her 5-year-old son practiced soccer with other Western and Jordanian boys on a little league team.

A German aid official who worked on water projects with Foley’s team said the fact that a relatively obscure official like Foley, rather than a high-profile diplomat, was targeted gave them all pause.

``It made us aware of our vulnerability,″ he said, also requesting anonymity. ``But on the other hand, we can’t do anything about it.″

Another Western diplomat said that while security was increased around his embassy, they weren’t nearly as worried as the Americans and the British.

Yet a German woman working in Amman said thought about being hit by mistake.

Germans are liked because of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s refusal to join U.S. saber-rattling against Baghdad. ``But can they tell I’m German and not American from far away?″ she asked.

Irvine said Arab friends encourage her to hide the fact that she’s American.

``They’re telling me to lie and say I’m French, just to be safe,″ she said. Instead, she tries to avoid the subject and sticks to speaking Arabic as much as possible.

She and other Americans say they never felt threatened, and that most Jordanians are friendly and courteous on a personal level.

``They’re like, `we like you, we just don’t like your government,‴ Irvine said.

``Or sometimes they say, `can you get me a visa?‴ her friend, Lisa Lawrence, 28, of Charlotte, North Carolina, added.

Rumors abound of international companies making contingency plans to pull foreign workers out if things get worse: France Telecom supposedly has a ship ready in Cyprus, a German institute is already lining up a replacement for a teacher whose spouse works for Siemens.

Foley was the first Western diplomat ever assassinated in Jordan, and many hope his murder was an isolated incident.

``At the same time, given all that’s going on in the region, with the Palestinians and Iraq, people are taking this a little more seriously,″ said Schupp, who was planning to offer prayers for Foley’s family at church services Saturday night.

He asked for increased security after a church like his was attacked in Islamabad, Pakistan, in March by a Muslim extremist. Schupp expected more steps to be taken now, since his Protestant congregation includes many diplomats.

And while he and his wife don’t want to go _ their children, ages 11, 8 and 4, are in Arabic schools _ they have been talking about what they would do if the situation deteriorates.

``In our minds we’re planning to stay, but at same time we don’t want to expose our family to undue harm,″ he said. ``We’re just trying to keep our options open.″

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