Thu, Sep 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Fourth US embassy attacker dies

MISSION ASSAULT The Syrian ambassador to the US has suggested that his country's efforts in foiling the attack could pave the way for improved relations

AFP AND AP , DAMASCUS

A Syrian policeman stands in front of the VIP visitors' entrance to the US embassy in Damascus on Tuesday. Armed Islamic militants attempted to storm the embassy using automatic rifles, hand grenades and at least one van rigged with explosives.

PHOTO: AP

One of the four gunmen who attacked the US embassy in the Syrian capital has died of his injuries, after the other three were killed by security forces who thwarted the attack, state-run SANA news agency reported yesterday.

"The fourth terrorist who took part in the terrorist operation targeting the US embassy yesterday [Tuesday] has died of the serious injuries he sustained in clashes with members of the anti-terror squad," it said.

"Due to his critical condition, investigators were unable to interrogate him to unravel this terrorist operation," for which there has been no claim of responsibility yet, the agency said.

All four gunmen were Syrian nationals.

SANA's report contradicted claims by a senior US official who said in Washington late on Tuesday that the gunman captured during the attack had been cooperating with Syrian authorities.

Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdel Majid told US Charge d'Affaires Michael Corbin that the attacker was "providing information to Syrian security authorities," State Department Spokesman Tom Casey said.

Three other assailants and a member of Syria's anti-terror squad were killed on Tuesday, as Syrian security forces foiled the attack in which grenades, automatic weapons and two explosives-laden vehicles were used.

The US embassy said that none of its staff was hurt in the attack.

The embassy remained closed yesterday, after Americans were warned to keep a low-profile.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility the attack but suspicion immediately fell on a little-known al-Qaeda offshoot called Jund al-Sham, Arabic for Soldiers of Syria.

Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to Washington suggested yesterday that his country's efforts in foiling the attack could pave the way for an improvement in tense relations between the two nations.

"The ball is now in the US administration's court," Ambassador Imad Mustafa told the official Ath-Thawra newspaper.

"The policies followed by this administration do not help in improving relations in a positive fashion," he said.

"There is a chance to improve these relations because Syria has always believed in dialogue as a means to solving all problems and pending issues."

Relations between Washington and Damascus took a turn for the worse in February last year amid accusations that Syria was involved in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Tensions had mounted over Syria's support for the Muslim Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah group in its month-long war with Israel.

Last week, the White House branded Syria and regional ally Iran as "especially worrisome" threats.

The US praised Syria on Tuesday for protecting its embasy and foiling the attack.

"I do think that the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people and we very much appreciate that," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

"It also once again illustrates the importance of Syria being an important ally in the war on terror," White House spokesman Tony Snow added. "We are hoping they will become an ally and make the choice of fighting against terrorists."

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