The terrorist attack in Damascus’s diplomatic quarter on Tuesday night, April 27, has been tightly blacked out by the Assad regime. All the same, probes through DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources have reached some initial discoveries.
The most striking is the identity of the perpetrators; Syrian fighters returned home from a year’s combat against US forces in Fallujah and in terrorist attacks in the Baghdad region. They belong to one of the first teams of Syrian volunteers to head into Iraq and fight for Saddam Hussein last April and May.
The captives taken into custody by Syrian security forces revealed that their main target was the Canadian embassy where they planned to take hostages and declare the embassy compound captured Iraqi guerrilla territory. They would have demanded as the price for the hostages’ lives the release of all the Iraqi prisoners held by coalition forces in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein himself, and all the prisoners linked to al Qaeda or other Muslim groups in Canadian jails.
Failure to meet their demands would have resulted in the execution one by one of the hostages, the torching of the embassy building and a final mass suicidal assault on the Syrian forces surrounding the site.
Our sources add that at the outset of its investigation, Syrian intelligence failed to discover the guiding force who ordered the strike, who set it up and who inside the country provided the group with weapons, money and the tools for getting past the iron gates of the embassy and steel doors inside. The team is thought to have numbered between 4 and 8 terrorists. The captured men insisted they were working on their own and there was no one behind them. Syrian officials are only to happy to accept this claim as true and have passed it on to foreign intelligence agencies, including the American, in answer to their questions.
This story suits them for two reasons:
Damascus is anxious to conceal the that fact that the terrorists were Syrian nationals who fought in Iraq. Discovery of their identity would substantiate Washington’s allegations that the Assad regime sent fighting men into Iraq to confront the American-led invasion. Syrian officials have therefore refused to part with information to the Americans on the names or nationality of the captured terrorists, only describing their leader as an oddball – part eccentric, part religious fanatic.
Syrian president Bashar Assad bewares of crossing leaders of the Iraqi guerrilla movement and certainly al Qaeda, two abundant sources of revenue for the Syrian exchequer through their deposits in Syrian banks. Furthermore, Osama bin Laden‘s organization is a powerful force in the Syrian capital; his support lends President Assad stature in the eyes of many Muslim and Arab countries.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources, Assad and his top officials are never sure themselves whether the al Qaeda operatives who often pass through Syria and Lebanon are under the orders of a command based in Iran or elsewhere, such as Afghanistan. In any case, the Damascus operation indicates that bin Laden’s organization is on the march, breaking into fresh Middle Eastern fields (as is shown also in separate articles in this issue on Jordan and Saudi Arabia.)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror informants have come up with some exclusive data on the suicide-speedboat attack that targeted Basra’s two offshore oil terminals Saturday night, April 24. They have learned that it was the work of Shiites from southern Iraq under the command of al Qaeda senior mastermind, Musab Zarqawi. There is no clue so far to the Shiite speedboat group’s identity or how it came under the orders of a senior Sunni terrorist figure, who soon after the attack claimed responsibility in a signed statement published in the Ansar al Islami website Muntada al-Ansar.
“We have glad tidings,” he wrote… “Our brothers in their boats targeted the oil terminals of Mina al Amiq and Mina al Baqr.”
This operation once again belies the general wisdom in Washington and Iraq that Sunni and Shiite Muslims are at daggers drawn and incapable of working together against a common enemy. Al Qaeda’s performance in recent weeks tells a different story.