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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06DAMASCUS2598
2006-06-05 13:14:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

SYRIA POINTS FINGER AT FOREIGN-BACKED ISLAMISTS

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  SY  LE  IZ  JO 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO7870
OO RUEHAG
DE RUEHDM #2598/01 1561314
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 051314Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9385
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0081
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 002598 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PARIS FOR ZEYA, LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/04/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL SY LE IZ JO
SUBJECT: SYRIA POINTS FINGER AT FOREIGN-BACKED ISLAMISTS
FOR JUNE 2 ATTACK

REF: DAM 1160

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4 b/d



1. (C) Summary: Early in the morning of June 2, SARG
security forces engaged armed attackers in a 25-minute
shoot-out in Damascus on the compound of the Syrian TV and
Radio headquarters, according to Emboffs at the scene and
regional media reports. Casualty reports have varied, with
up to four attackers and seven members of security forces
being killed, according to Embassy contacts and the media.
The SARG has suggested through its official media that the 10
attackers were Islamic fundamentalists, armed by a
neighboring country, perhaps to carry out U.S. and Israeli
threats against Syria, a charge that has been picked up by
reports in the offshore media. On the surface at least, the
SARG seems to be trying to convey that it has contained the
internal threat, while lashing out directly and indirectly at
countries that have criticized the SARG publicly. End
Summary.



2. (SBU) At 0600 Friday, June 2, Syrian security forces
engaged 10 armed attackers in a 25-minute shoot-out in or
around an abandoned building located between the Syrian TV
and Radio Building and the state's Criminal Security branch
near Omayyad Circle, an area that also houses the Ministry of
Higher Education, the directorate of customs and other
security establishments. Emboffs saw some 75-100 members of
various Syrian security forces on the scene, including
civilian police, military police, and intelligence services,
with many of them rushing in and out of the entrance at
Syrian TV and Radio. The overall response seemed somewhat
haphazard and disorganized. Police were unable to establish
any effective perimeter, with Polchief and A/RSO remaining in
front of the TV and Radio Building for a quarter of an hour,
watching the arrival of a flood of security personnel and
ambulances. Near the end of the crisis, more senior
officials arrived on the scene, including the Minister of
Interior, Bassam Abdul-Majeed. Police closed Omayyad Circle
for approximately two hours, although some traffic still
managed to circulate.



3. (C) Casualty reports have varied, depending on the
source. RSO contacts reported three attackers killed, two
injured, one escaped and four arrested. The official Syrian
Arab News Agency (SANA) reported "the killing of four armed
terrorists and the martyrdom of a member of the fighting
terror forces while the other terrorists were arrested, two
of them wounded." An Embassy Alawite contact, whose cousin
belonged to one of the units responding to the incident, said
that six members of Syria's security forces were killed, many
of them leaders of their units. The SARG generally
underreports casualties among its forces when it engages in
fatal confrontations, according to the contact, Ghimar Deeb,

who is a legal consultant for UNDP (protect) and a former
prosecutor.



4. (U) The regional newspaper Al-Hayat reported that weapons
and other items seized after the attack included American M16
rifles, hunting rifles, locally-made bombs, as well as CDs,
cassette tapes, mobile phones and detonators, which official
TV presented following the clash.



5. (C) The motive for the attack remains unclear. An
initial SANA report quoted an Interior Ministry source who
blamed armed Islamic terrorists, who followed Sufi teachings
until Ramadan last October when they joined a "takfiri
group." (Note: Takfiri Islamists insist on a strict
interpretation of the Koran and of Sharia law that condemns
as infidels those who do not accept this view.) Al-Hayat
newspaper quoted a Syrian official who said he saw the
attackers' corpses and that they were men in their 20s and
30s, dressed in military fatigues and colored headscarves
that indicated they were "Syrian fundamentalists." Regional
media reports about the incident also mentioned a string of
attacks during the past year in Syria by the Jund-a-Sham
Islamist group (reftel).



6. (C) On a separate note, the same Interior Ministry
official quoted by SANA also suggested that Syria's political
enemies may have been behind the attack, noting that "arms
were supplied to the group by a neighboring country to stage
sabotage acts aimed at vital targets and national interests."
Some contacts, including Deeb, speculated that the SARG was
trying to link the act to Amman, a riposte for Jordan's
having accused Syria in April of complicity in planned

DAMASCUS 00002598 002 OF 002


Hamas-related attacks on Jordan. Other observers suggested
that the SARG was trying to pin the incident on Beirut, as
noted in a June 3 Associated Press report that noted past
Syrian allegations of weapons coming into the country from
Lebanon. A June 3 editorial in the official Tishreen
newspaper suggested a U.S.-Israeli link, highlighting the
seizure of American weapons and asserting, "Some time ago we
heard successive fiery statements from known figures in
neighboring countries threatening to transfer suicide and
terrorist operations (from Iraq) to Syria. Was yesterday's
incident in the heart of Damascus a translation of those
America-Israeli threats that were uttered in Arabic?"



7. (C) Widespread speculation continues about the incident.
A contact at the Egyptian Embassy called the incident
"farcical," with little implication for the general security.
Deeb assessed the incident as a real attack by a religiously
motivated group, adding, however, that he was not worried
about the immediate overall security in the capital. The
security services are probably panicking because they have no
details about the attackers' motivations, Deeb said, adding
that their interrogation methods were bound to be "clumsy."
The head of the Sufi-influenced Abu Noor Institute, Sheikh
Saleh Kuftaro, took exception to the SARG's characterization
of the attackers as "takfiris," citing a televised report on
Syrian TV that showed one of the attackers wearing red
undergarments. True fundamentalists would only wear long,
white undergarments, Kuftaro told PolFSN. Analyst Samir
al-Taki attributed the attack to a possible split among
jihadist elements in Syria, some of them al-Qaida influenced,
between those who want to focus on only the insurgency in
Iraq and those who also insist on opening a front against the
al-Asad regime in Syria. In his view, the SARG responded in
a disorganized way to the June 2 incident, showing a
fundamental weakness in the regime, regardless of its
muscle-flexing internal crackdown and confrontational foreign
policy. In al-Taki's view, if the attack had been part of a
more sustained assault in the city, possibly with some civil
unrest, the regime would not have been capable of responding
effectively.



8. (C) Comment: This is the first serious incident of
violence in the capital since the attack on the abandoned UN
Building in Mezzeh neighborhood in April 2004. As in that
incident, the June 2 shoot-out appears to have been a serious
and sustained fire fight between SARG security forces and
gunmen. As it did in April 2004, the SARG appears to be
working hard to reassure the public quickly that it had the
upper hand in the clashes. As reported in the past, Post
believes that the SARG is taking action against some
fundamentalist groups, many of them tied to efforts to
support the insurgency in Iraq, although we suspect the main
targets are those groups the SARG perceives as threatening
its own well-being. The SARG's campaign is not, however,
always highly publicized, except at carefully timed
opportunities, such as now in the run-up to the ongoing
National Salvation Front conference in London and the
mid-June release of the latest UNIIIC investigation update.
SECHE