Posted by: sean | September 14, 2006

Something rotten in Damascus?

I woke up Tuesday morning to the news that the US embassy in Damascus had been attacked. It seems that the Syrian forces (and perhaps American marines) killed three of the four attackers and stopped them from exploding another car full of explosives (accounts vary, but it sounds like one car bomb was detonated).

Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in Lebanon, where the Syrian presence is still felt (if only from the ka’ak sellers on the street who are rumored to be Syrian mukhabarat agents), but I can’t help but wondering if Damascus wasn’t somehow involved in this attack or at least failed to prevent it. Syria is a police state where the mukhabarat keeps pretty close tabs on everyone, especially Sunni militants, and it seems suprising that something like this could happen without the state’s knowledge, particulary as the American embassy is so close to the presidential residence.

Either the intelligence apparatus’s grip on things in Damascus is slipping, or the government decided that it might be to its advantage to stop such a plot as it was unfolding instead of before it actually happened. Both hypotheses seem possible to me, and both are disconcerting in very different ways.

In Al Jazeera Magazine (which is out of Dubai and London and has no relation to Al Jazeera the television channel), there is speculation that the attacks were planned either by the US or Syria. While the article focuses on the idea that the US was behind the attack, they do mention another hypothesis from the London daily Al-Quds al-Arabi:

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition figure [Mohammad Marwan Suweidan, a former Syrian Army officer] has called Tuesday[‘s] attack on the U.S. embassy “a foolish act conducted by a naive regime aimed to mislead the Syrian people and send a warning to the U.S. administration,” the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi reported earlier.

It should be noted that Al Jazeera Magazine (as opposed to Al Jazeera the cable station and website) is relatively unknown to me. I’m not sure how accurate their reporting is, and I haven’t been able to find the Al-Quds al-Arabi article to verify that Suweidan really made such an accusation. Furthermore, it should be disclosed that he is part of Rifaat Assad‘s exiled opposition. Rifaat is Bashar’s uncle and was exiled after a failed coup attempt in the 1983. He was also in charge of the massacre at Hama, where he led the “Defence Brigades” in killing 10,000 to 25,000 people.

All this to say that I don’t know if Rifaat or his supporters are reliable sources; however, something seems fishy about this attack.

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