On this day in 2006, four gunmen attacked the US Embassy in Damascus, storming the compound with grenades and automatic weapons before being repelled by Syrian security forces.
DAMASCUS SYRIA — While enjoying my first Pillar Society BBQ on the banks of the Rideau River this evening I had an interesting chat with my friend Neil, who still works for CSIS (NB the Pillar Society is the CSIS retirees’ association). Neil is a fan of my work and suggested to me that a neat feature of my blogs/podcasts would be something along the lines of Today in Terrorism, a look back at a terrorism-related incident with a discussion on what it means now.
I thought the idea was intriguing and on my drive home decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, a daily podcast is beyond my feeble technical capabilities but a daily blog followed by a weekly podcast is not. Hence here is my first offering of what I hope to produce every day (for the blog) and every week (for the year) until this day in September 2020.
Here we go.
On September 13, 2006 four gunmen attacked the US Embassy in Damascus, storming the compound with grenades and automatic weapons before being repelled by Syrian security forces. Three of the gunmen were killed and a fourth was wounded. One Syrian security official was killed and about a dozen people were wounded, including three Syrian security officials and a Syrian guard employed by the embassy. No American personnel were injured and the attackers failed to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives. I have been unable to locate any solid information on who was behind the attack.
When you think of Syria today what comes to mind? A country shattered from eight years of civil war. One of the Middle East nations to first witness the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. A brutal dictatorship run by the Assad government with the help of Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies. The western half of the short-lived Islamic State ‘Caliphate’. A humanitarian catastrophe. The source of 11 MILLION refugees according to the EU:
An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. Now, in the sixth year of war, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. Among those escaping the conflict, the majority have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile about one million have requested asylum to Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 cumulated applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are EU’s top receiving countries.
But back in 2006 none of this had yet occurred. Furthermore, the police state of the Assads was not the easiest place to plan and execute a terrorist attack, leading to the obvious question: who was behind the assault on the US Embassy? Syria is a longtime supporter of both Hizballah and Hamas, both of which regularly target Israel, but it is hard to see why they would turn their attention to the Americans.
The Syrian ambassador to the US suggested that the attackers might have links to a group known as Jund al-Sham (Soldiers of the Levant): in 2005 five of the group’s militants had been killed in Hama when security agents raided their hideout, uncovering a stash of weapons and explosives. The US disagreed, saying there was little evidence yet to support the claim that Jund al-Sham might have carried it out. The US further noted neither was there any evidence linking the attack to a message issued two days earlier on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, who threatened that Al Qaeda would be carrying out attacks in the Middle East (one US intelligence official dismissed the link, saying “this attack would be small beer by Al Qaeda standards.”).
There may be more information in the bowels of the US’ intelligence holdings we will never see. Then again, an armed raid in which no civilians died may strike some as ‘small beer’. Alternatively, the attack may have presaged the turmoil that began to rock Syria in 2011 and which continues to this day.
In any event, this is what transpired in the world of terrorism 13 years ago on this day.
When Religion Kills: How Extremists Justify Violence Through Faith (2019)
Christian fundamentalists. Hindu nationalists. Islamic jihadists. Buddhist militants. Jewish extremists. Members of these and other religious groups have committed horrific acts of terrorist violence in recent decades. Phil Gurski explores violent extremism across a broad range of the world’s major religions.
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- Eric Schmitt: Covering the terrorism beat for the New York Times - December 1, 2020