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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Was Attack on Embassy a Set-Up?

The abortive assault on Sept. 12 against the American embassy in Damascus was probably mounted by Syria’s secret service.

The Abu Remmaneh neighborhood surrounding the American embassy ranks as the most secure in all of Damascus because it also houses the presidential mansion, the headquarters of Syria’s leading intelligence and security services and the defense ministry. Doubt was quickly cast over the authenticity of the attack in view of unprofessional way it was organized, the very quick intervention of security forces who killed three of the assailants on the spot (the death of the fourth was announced the next day) and the immediate arrival on the scene of the interior minister, general Basam Abd al Majid.

According to reliable sources, the operation was organized by two Syrian intelligence services. On one side, the General Intelligence service headed by general Ali Mamluk recruited the four assailants. They were described as “Takfiris Jihadists” drawn from a network of Islamic radicals close to Al Qaeda who were passing through Syria on their way to either Iraq or Lebanon (IOL 530).

On the other side, the counter-espionage department of the Military Intelligence service headed by gen. Amin Charabeh (known as Palestine section, after the name of the building it occupies), thwarted the attack and killed the assailants. In fact, Charabeh’s men, reputed for their professionalism, are merciless in fighting Sunni Islamic networks. But they are also known on occasion to recruit Jihadists and to pick out targets for them.

In organizing the “attack” on the day after the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, the Syrian government wanted to send a clear signal to Washington: namely, that despite the accusations against it, Syria isn’t a terrorist state and can offer effective assistance in the fight against terrorism on condition the U.S. lifts sanctions against Damascus and involves it in the political process in the region.

However, the maneuver involving the embassy, a little too obvious, produced exactly the opposite effect and stirred new tension in the higher reaches of government. According to our sources, the operation against the embassy was approved by president Bashar al Assad and his brother Maher, commander of the Republican Guard.

On the other hand, general Assef Shawkat, chief of military intelligence who is being increasingly sidelined by Bashar and Maher - his brothers-in-law - has now found himself wrong-footed vis a vis the Americans, with whom he liaises on an official basis. Bashar and Maher, in their effort to counter Shawkat’s influence, seem to be putting their money on the number two man in Military Intelligence, gen. Said Sammur.

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