Syrian security services responsible for foiling a terror attack on the US Embassy in Damascus Tuesday have been hailed by American officials.
Four armed militants launched the attack at 10:05 AM (07:05 GMT) armed with hand grenades and machine guns, according to the official SANA news agency.
Intense gunfire was heard in a battle between Syrian forces and the gunmen in which three of the militants were killed and one injured while there were no US casualties.
The US Embassy is in a district where many foreign missions, security installations and the homes of senior Syrian government officials are located. It was sealed off by security guards shortly after the incident.
The attackers used two cars. The first of these failed in ramming into the embassy and exploded, witnesses told Xinhua. The other vehicle was a booby-trapped white pickup parked in front of the embassy. The explosive devices hidden in the vehicle were later defused by Syrian bomb disposal experts.
A member of Syria's anti-terror squad was killed during the attack and at least 10 people, including a senior Chinese diplomat, were injured.
Political counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Damascus Li Hongyu, 41, suffered a slight facial injury caused by flying shrapnel while he was standing atop a garage in the Chinese embassy compound close to the US embassy.
The attack occurred just one day after the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US masterminded by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
"I'm upset as yesterday is the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and today this happens," a Russian woman living nearby, who declined to give her name, told Xinhua. "I'm very sad about this. But I don't think the Syrians have done this. Maybe they're from other countries," she said. There's no official confirmation of the identity of the attackers.
Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul Majid, in an official response, said the attack failed to achieve anything and praised the role of anti-terror forces and their alertness in protecting the nation and citizens.
Preliminary investigations revealed the two cars used had been stolen, the minister said. Investigations were ongoing. Majid said that the scene of the terrorist operation, a public street used by vehicles and where parking was permitted, was exploited by the terrorist group.
Syrian security forces have clashed several times with militant groups and killed dozens. They've arrested nearly 100 of them since last summer in an effort to tighten security around the country.
In June four gunmen and a guard were killed when Syrian security forces said they'd foiled an attack by militants near the offices of state-run television in Damascus.
Also on Tuesday, US Embassy Charge D'Affaires Michael Corbin, saluted Syria for foiling the terror attack, according to SANA.
Corbin expressed gratitude in a phone call with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Arnous. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, currently on a visit to Canada, also thanked Syria for its reaction to the attack.
"We appreciate the response of the Syrian security forces to help secure our territory," Rice said adding that American nationals at the embassy were "safe and secure."
"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," she said.
Syrian-US relations have been tense for many years with the two countries split on many issues including Syria's role in Lebanon, the Middle East conflict and Iraq.
Washington recalled their ambassador to Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February last year. The US blamed Damascus for the murder but Syria denied any role in the killing.
(Xinhua News Agency September 13, 2006)