Syrian security forces say they have foiled a terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. The assailants exploded a car bomb and apparently tried to detonate another one. Syrian officials say three of the attackers were killed and a fourth was wounded and captured. The state news agency says one Syrian soldier was killed and at least 11 other people injured.
Syrian officials say four men attacked the U.S. Embassy with car bombs and small-arms fire. Witnesses said the assailants threw grenades at the embassy compound and shouted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."
Interior Minister Bassem Abdel-Majid said there were two cars involved in the attack, one of which exploded. He said the second did not detonate and was being examined by explosives experts.
He says, "Clearly, it was a terrorist operation targeting the American Embassy. The terrorist group is still unidentified, and investigations are ongoing. One of them [the attackers] was detained. He is wounded. An investigation could uncover some of their background and where they came from."
Syrian and U.S. officials say there were no American casualties. Syrian security forces sealed off the entire diplomatic district after the attack.
Television footage taken outside the embassy showed pools of blood and a burned-out car on the street. Another vehicle, a white car or van, was shown packed with gas canisters and what appeared to be pipe bombs.
The attack came one day after the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and a warning by al-Qaida deputy chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri that new attacks against American targets should be expected in the Persian Gulf and Israel. Some Syrian officials say the attack in Damascus does bear some of the hallmarks of al-Qaida, but it is too early to say who actually carried it out.
Political science professor Samir al-Taqi of the Center for Strategic Studies at Damascus University says even if they are not actually members of al-Qaida, the assailants may have drawn inspiration from the terrorist group.
"Personally, it wasn't for me a surprise because the situation now is that the activity is very high, in the whole region, of al-Qaida," al-Taqi says. "I don't know whether it has been really al-Qaida, but at least the Salafist, jihadist organizations with all their direct connections with al-Qaida itself, do appear to be linked."
In June, Syrian security forces said they foiled an attack by Islamist militants near the state-owned television station. Four militants and a security guard were killed in that clash.
At the same time, diplomatic relations between Syria and the United States have been at an all-time low.
Washington withdrew its ambassador from Damascus a year and a half ago after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which the United States blames Syria for. Syria denies any involvement. Washington also accuses Damascus of supporting anti-Israeli militant groups including Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as insurgent groups in Iraq. Syria says U.S. policies, including the war in Iraq and support for Israel, are fueling Islamic militancy in the Middle East.
Al-Taqi says those strained relations have hurt cooperation between the U.S. and Syria on the fight against terrorism.
"I think it's a major necessity," al-Taqi says. "From my point of view, unfortunately, because there has been a kind of demonization of Syria, unfortunately, the Syrian-American debate and cooperation is not going as it should be in the interest of the anti-terror activity worldwide."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked Syrian security forces for their aggressive response to the attack, and said it is too early to tell who might have been responsible.