AMMAN, Jordan -- An American diplomat was assassinated Monday in front of his house, gunned down by eight pistol shots in the first such targeted attack on a U.S. diplomat in decades. The killing appeared aimed at undermining a key ally increasingly under pressure as Washington prepares for a showdown with Iraq.
Laurence Foley, a 60-year-old administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, was walking to his car when a single gunman opened fire, police said. The gunman -- and likely accomplices -- escaped.
U.S. and Jordanian officials said it was too early to tell whether the attack was terrorist-related. There were no suspects and no one claimed responsibility.
A Jordanian police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the killing appeared to have been carried out by professionals who had been following Foley for some time to determine his schedule.
The killing stunned the estimated 3,000-strong American community in Jordan, which generally considers Amman safe, despite occasional warnings of security threats.
Security was immediately increased at embassies and diplomatic missions. In an unusual scene for Amman, red beret-clad special forces riding jeeps mounted with machine-guns escorted diplomatic vehicles through the city.
The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to "remain vigilant."
At a news conference, U.S. Ambassador Edward Gnehm condemned the shooting as a "cowardly, criminal act" but refused to call it terrorist-related.
Foley, recently honored for 37 years of "superior" service, had been working on projects to deliver clean drinking water and health care to poor Jordanians and provide loans to small businesses.
His voice breaking several times, Gnehm described the former Peace Corps volunteer as "a man who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others." He said Foley's wife, Virginia, recalled him telling her the night before he died: "I'm where I want to be doing what I want to do."
Foley, a native of Boston and father of three, worked for the Peace Corps in India and the Philippines and carried out USAID assignments in Bolivia, Peru, Zimbabwe and Jordan.
Gnehm said there had been no threats or warnings and denied that security had been lax outside the fortress-like walls of the sprawling embassy compound.
Neighbors told The Associated Press that locally employed embassy guards usually parked overnight outside Foley's villa and left in the mornings. It was unclear if they were there at the time of the shooting.
The killing of an American official shocked Jordan's pro-Western government, which has maintained close ties to Washington despite rising public anger over U.S. support for Israel and preparations for war against neighboring Iraq.
Anti-American demonstrations are less common and smaller here than in other Arab capitals, and usually tied to protests against Israel.
Nevertheless, more than half of Jordan's 5 million people are of Palestinian origin, some with close ties to Palestinian extremist groups. Jordan and Iraq maintain close commercial links, and there is considerable traffic between the two countries.
Jordan's foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, went to the U.S. Embassy to express condolences and promised swift action to catch the shooter. Gnehm said U.S. authorities were "working closely" with Jordanian investigators.
Jordan's information minister, Mohammed Affash Adwan, promised to "deal seriously with this horrible crime," which he called "an aggression on Jordan and its national security."
The country's largest political opposition group, the Islamic Action Front, also condemned the killing. "Killing civilians is unacceptable," said Abdul-Latif Arabiat, president of the front's governing council.
Although Americans and Europeans regard Amman as generally safe, an Israeli businessman was shot and killed last year in the same neighborhood as Foley, and two Israeli diplomats were wounded by gunshots in 2000.
Foley was shot with a 7 mm pistol at about 7:30 a.m., and died instantly, according to a senior Jordanian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Doctors who performed the autopsy said he had been shot eight times in the head, chest and abdomen. They recovered six bullets -- all the same type -- from the body.
Jordanian security officials said Foley's wife called police after the attack.
Neighbors said they did not hear any gunshots, raising questions about whether a silencer was used. The Jordanian security official said only that the attack was apparently "well-organized and well-planned."
Large numbers of police searched the shooting scene for fingerprints and other evidence.
"We are all sad for his killing because he and his wife were a nice couple and everybody liked them in the neighborhood," said one veiled woman, who gave her name only as Um-Ayman.
Another Jordanian neighbor, Um-Saeed Sbeih, said Foley and his wife would walk their dog every day and always wave and greet them in Arabic.
"It is a hideous crime, whoever did it should be punished," she said. "Why should ordinary people get killed and punished for the crimes of their leaders? We like the American people and we were happy to have this man as a neighbor."
In Washington, Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. aid agency, said Foley "strove to make the world a better place than he found it."
"No one in USAID embodied the spirit of compassion and brotherhood that underpins our efforts more than Larry Foley," Natsios said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a statement, said Foley had devoted his life to government service.
Five U.S ambassadors were killed by terrorists in the 1960s and '70s, among the scores of American diplomats killed in the line of duty.
All 12 Americans killed in the 1998 embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, were diplomats. The car bombing of the U.S. Embassy, which has been linked to al-Qaida, was the most deadly attack on Americans assigned to a U.S. diplomatic mission ever and the last recorded slaying of an American diplomat overseas.