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Syria Not Immune from Acts of Terror, say Experts - 2004-04-28


Syrian television says officials are investigating whether members of the terrorist group al-Qaida were behind Tuesday's shootout with Syrian security forces in Damascus that left four people dead. Some Syrian analysts believe the attack was intended to send a message to the West, while others say no one in Syria should be surprised by Tuesday's incident.

Syrian television showed a cache of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and gas cylinders, that authorities say was discovered in the same district where police battled with attackers late Tuesday.

The gun battle occurred after masked gunmen detonated a car bomb next to an empty building once used by the United Nations. Two of the assailants were killed and two others wounded. A policeman and civilian woman were also killed.

Political columnist and analyst in Damascus Imad Fawzi Shuebi says local television reports suggest al-Qaida was behind the attack. Mr. Shuebi thinks the attack was intended to send a message to the United States.

"They are a group of terrorists who are belonging to al-Qaida, I suppose," he said. "They are trying to make a big message to the United States of America that they can approach any target, everywhere."

Just one day before Tuesday's attack, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Arab satellite television station al-Jazeera that he has been warning the world of increased terrorist activity.

Mr. Assad said a resurgence of terrorism began in some Arab countries in the early 1990s and has since spread in the region. He added that Syria has been warning that what began 15 years ago in the Middle East would eventually spread everywhere.

Syria says it is cooperating in the global war on terrorism. But the United States has accused Syria of sheltering terrorists and not doing enough to stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq across the Syrian border. Mr. Assad says Syria is doing its best to control the border.

At Damascus University, professor of history Souhl Zakkar says while Syrians were generally shocked by Tuesday's attack, he says no one should really be surprised by it.

Mr. Souhl said the attack was a surprise, in a way, because Syrians have not really experienced acts of terror in more than two decades. But he added it was not totally unexpected, considering what is going on in the entire region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq. Mr. Souhl said Syria has no reason to believe it is immune from acts of terror.

Following Tuesday's attack, Syrian authorities vowed to intensify their fight against terrorist groups.