Monday, October 27, 2008

U.S. Official: Syrian Strike Killed Al Qaeda Target

Monday , October 27, 2008 A U.S. strike on a network of foreign fighters in Syria killed its main target — an Al Qaeda coordinator who was wanted for sending foreign fighters, weapons and cash into Iraq, a U.S. official told FOX News. Killed in Sunday's attack by Special Operations Forces was Abu Ghadiyain, Al Qaeda's senior coordinator operating in Syria who was closely associated with the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The assault, which took place about 4-5 miles inside Syria, came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq. Ninety percent of foreign fighters enter Iraq through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, bringing cash to Al Qaeda in Iraq's chief. They also are deadly — trained in bomb-making and willing to sacrifice themselves in suicide attacks. A senior U.S. military intelligence official said that in July only about 20 foreign fighters were entering the country each month, down 50 percent from six months earlier, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago. A resident of the village where the raid took place said he saw at least two men taken into custody by American forces and whisked away in a helicopter. The villager spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life. Another villager at the site displayed amateur video footage he took with his mobile phone that shows four helicopters flying toward them as villagers point to the skies in alarm. An Associated Press journalist at the attack site in far eastern Syria saw the grainy video. Eight people in total were killed in the raid, which Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem called an act of "criminal and terrorist aggression." During their funerals, angry residents shouted anti-American slogans and carried banners reading: "Down with Bush and the American enemy." Russia's Foreign Ministry also criticized the attack, warning that it will escalate tensions in the region.

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Baghdad condemns 'US Syria raid'
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Video reportedly showing helicopters at the scene of the Syria attack

Iraq has denounced a raid into Syria at the weekend, saying it does not want its territory to be used as a launch-pad for US attacks on its neighbours.

Syria urged the UN Security Council to hold the US responsible for the attack, which it says killed eight civilians.

And Syria's cabinet called the attack "barbaric", ordering a US school and cultural centre in Damascus to be shut.

Unnamed US officials have said the operation killed a key figure involved in the smuggling of fighters into Iraq.

But Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem denied the US claims calling them "totally unjustified".

'War crime attempt'

He branded the attack a "war crime attempt" and said it had claimed the lives of civilians - a father and his three children, a farm guard and his wife, and a fisherman.

Speaking after a Baghdad cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also explicitly criticised the US over the unconfirmed helicopter strike.
"The Iraqi government rejects the US helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that Iraq's constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighbouring countries," he said.

But he urged Damascus to prevent groups using Syrian territory for "training and sending terrorists for attacks on Iraq and its people".

The White House has neither confirmed nor denied Sunday's strike near Abu Kamal, some eight kilometres (five miles) north of Iraq's border with Syria.

Syria had protested to the UN Security Council in a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the state news agency Sana said on Tuesday.

It urged the Security Council "to hold the aggressor responsible for the deaths of the innocent Syrian nationals".

'Successful operation'

An unnamed US official told Reuters news agency the raid killed Iraqi Abu Ghadiyah, a former lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader who was killed in 2006.

HAVE YOUR SAY It's hard to believe the Syrians could not see this coming G Battista, Brazil

"It was a successful operation. [Abu Ghadiyah] is believed to be dead. This undoubtedly will have a debilitating effect on this foreign fighter smuggling network," the official said.

If confirmed, Sunday's strike would be the first US attack in Syria since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The attack reportedly took place during the afternoon rest period, with a troop assault preferred over a missile strike to reduce civilian casualties, the intelligence official said.

The US had repeatedly asked Syria to hand over Abu Ghadiyah but Damascus said it was monitoring his activities, another US military official told AP.

Meanwhile Iraq's cabinet authorised PM Nouri Maliki to put forward unspecified proposed changes to a security pact with the US.

The Status of Forces Agreement will govern US troop presence in Iraq when a UN mandate expires at the end of 2008.

The US and Iraqi governments had previously said the pact, which would authorise the presence of US troops in Iraq until 2011, was final and could not be amended.

On Tuesday, the White House said it was reluctant to accept any changes to the agreement.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/10/28 16:08:59 GMT