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US Embassy Strike Follows al-Qaeda Threat

Syrian forces reacted swiftly to derail a terrorist operation as the US embassy was attacked in Damascus yesterday by four members of al-Qaeda-connected Jund al-Sham (Army of the Levant). Four members of the Syrian terrorist group, armed with small arms and hand grenades, drove two car bombs to the embassy, apparently intent on detonating them outside and then charging through the blast zones with a small arms rampage to kill US embassy occupants.

Three of the four attackers died at the scene as well as one of the Syrian security team. The fourth terrorist later died at a hospital before any interrogation could take place. Only one of the bomb-laden vehicles were detonated and the second, a pick-up truck loaded with pipe bombs and propane tanks, was defused by Syrian authorities.

Jund al-Sham was described by Syrian authorities as the most active terrorist group in Syria, though that label requires clarification. The al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group may be responsible for more attacks in Syria than any other group, but if global activity is considered, it should be acknowledged that the Syrian government does not accept the anti-Assad group’s activities in context with Damascus-based and Syrian-sponsored groups like Hizballah and Hamas. Syria describes them in the manner they do because Jund al-Sham, unlike Hizballah and Hamas, execute attacks against the regime rather than receive their financial, training and arms support.

Jund al-Sham’s members are not necessarily centered in Syria, but rather are spread throughout the region. To this end, they have claimed responsibility for attacks elsewhere in the Middle East, including Lebanon and Qatar.

The Baltimore Sun reports that some terrorism analysts believe Jund al-Sham’s order could have been given as a directive from al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Syria’s quick response is being attributed to the fact that the US embassy exists in thee same Damascus neighborhood as Bashar Assad’s presidential offices as well as other embassy grounds.

While the United States praised the swift Syrian response, saving the lives of officials and employees inside the US embassy, Syria was quick to deflect back at America in a statement released buy Syria’s embassy in the US. The statement read in part, “It is regrettable that U.S. policies in the Middle East have fueled extremism, terrorism and anti-U.S. sentiment. The U.S. should … start looking at the root causes of terrorism and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.” This statement is a curious response, especially considering the fact that the anti-Syrian-regime Jund al-Sham was founded in part as a response to Hafez Assad’s deadly crackdown on Sunni extremists in the Syria in the 1980’s.

The MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base (TKB) describes Jund al-Sham:

Jund al-Sham (Army of the Levant; Soldiers of Greater Syria) is a title claimed by several Sunni Islamic extremist entities, all or none of which may be tied together. Despite variations in their origin and focused area of operations, these elements were founded upon the common goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the greater Syrian region.

The first incarnation of Jund al-Sham occurred in Afghanistan in 1999 when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi led exiled militants and recruits from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in planning and training for operations to be conducted in the Levant. As Zarqawi’s affiliation with al-Qaeda grew, his Jund al-Sham offered the potential to boost al-Qadea’s relatively weak presence in the Levant region.

With such an al-Qaeda foundation and origin, the attack should be viewed in the context of al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest released message that called for attacks not in the United States but rather throughout the Persian Gulf Region and Israel instead. Meanwhile, the Asia Times reports that bin Laden is in improved health and on the move, noting that he “recently traveled from the South Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan to somewhere in the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan, or possibly Bajour” in the Pakistani NorthWest Frontier Province.