JDAITET YABOUS, Syria, (Reuters) – The military leader of a militant Islamist group blew himself up near a Syrian-Lebanese border crossing on Tuesday, wounding two Syrian police officers, officials said.
The 28-year old Syrian man, Omar Hamra, was the military commander of al-Tawheed Wal Jihad, one of several Muslim militant organisations pursued by Syrian authorities, they said.
The incident took place at 1.45 p.m. (1145 GMT) on the Syrian side of Jdaidet Yabous crossing point with Lebanon. “He was trying to cross the border with false documents. He shot at security forces with a pistol, tried to escape and then blew himself up with an explosives belt,” the government news agency SANA said. “He had nine fake identification cards. An investigation is underway,” SANA said.
Hours after the incident the border point was quiet and traffic was moving normally. Security officials took reporters to the site where they said Hamra blew himself up, about 1 km (1,000 yards) away from the border point used mainly by private passengers to cross to Lebanon.
Parts of Hamra’s body where lying on the ground and senior Syrian officials were at the site.
The secular government in Damascus, which crushed an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, says it has stepped up operations to contain armed militant groups emboldened by U.S. losses in Iraq and driven by a desire to revenge Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians.
Syria is under pressure from the United States to seal its eastern desert border with Iraq. Washington says militant fighters are crossing from Syria to attack U.S. forces there. Syria says it is doing its best but calls on the United States and Iraq to do more too.
Security forces clashed with Islamic militants several times this year and raided what they described as hideouts to arrest them. They killed four Syrians who tried to blow up the U.S. embassy in Damascus in September.
A government investigation said the failed attack was planned in Saudi Arabia. It said explosives for the attack were bought from Lebanon and transported by Lebanese smugglers across the border.
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.