DAMASCUS,(Reuters) – Last month’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Damascus was planned in Saudi Arabia and the four Syrians who carried it out had no links to al Qaeda, a government investigation said on Thursday.
Three of the four assailants, 31-year-old Abdel Raouf Saleh, Bilal Saleh, 25, and Samir Saleh, also 25, were close relatives who followed the teachings of a preacher in Saudi Arabia where they had worked, the Interior Ministry report said. They started preparing for the operation in 2004, according to the report.
“An investigation into the attack has been concluded. The group planned to blow an embassy door, storm the compound and kill whoever was inside. It had no links with extremist organisations outside Syria,” the report said.
“They attended lessons by a Saudi man of religion. Their extremism deepened due to the political situation shaking the region and U.S. bias toward Israel.”
The report said the group “had planned to broadcast a video statement after the operation in the name of Abu Musab Zarqawi Brigade, although they had no link to al Qaeda”.
It said they were inspired by Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. air strike in June.
Syrian security forces killed the four men who attacked the embassy on Sept. 12, in a gun battle that lasted about 30 minutes.
A Syrian guard and a Syrian bystander were also killed.
Twelve people were wounded. No Americans were hurt.
The report, published by the government’s news agency, said Syrian security forces later made several arrest in connection with the attack.
They included two members of the Saleh family who bought weapons and explosives for the attack in Lebanon and paid Lebanese smugglers to transport them across the border, it said.
The report said three militants drove up to the main entrance of the U.S. embassy and tried to storm the complex using automatic rifles and grenades, but were killed.
Another man drove in a van filled with explosives to a side door but was killed before he managed to detonate it.
Although the United States praised the Syrian response, relations between Damascus and Washington plummeted after the attack.
The Syrian government kept Washington in the dark about the investigation and officials said U.S. policies in the region and support for Israel were to blame by provoking the attackers.
A Syrian official said Damascus had no reason to cooperate with Washington because the attack was “a purely Syrian affair”.
Diplomats in Damascus said Syria might have squandered an opportunity to improve relations with Washington, which have been deteriorating for years, especially since the U.S. administration imposed sanctions against Syria in 2004, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
Syria’s secular government, which crushed an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, says it is fighting what it describes as terrorists.
In June four young Syrian men were killed as they tried to storm the headquarters of Syrian television. The government said the attempt was the work of a group of youths who had embraced a militant ideology similar to that of al Qaeda.