Syrian police survey the damage to the former UN building
Jihad attacks in Damascus. From The Telegraph, :
Suspected al-Qa’eda gunmen launched co-ordinated attacks on a diplomatic district of Damascus last night, sparking a fierce battle with security forces on the streets of the Syrian capital.
Explosions and gunfire were heard close to the British ambassador’s residence in the Mazzeh district that houses several embassies, while a building formerly housing United Nations offices was set alight.
Unconfirmed reports from witnesses said that masked men fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the former mission, setting it on fire. They are then said to have sprayed gunfire in all directions with assault rifles.
The random shooting hit a passing minibus which had no passengers and whose driver managed to escape, and five parked cars, which caught fire, witnesses said.
Late into the evening, smoke was seen billowing from Mazzeh and ambulances and police cars packed the area, which had been sealed by security forces. Witnesses said the violence started about 7.20pm and lasted more than an hour.
One local resident said that after the terrorists opened fire, a police car rushed to the scene and itself came under attack. The police returned fire and reinforcements, including plainclothes security forces, soon arrived. In the ensuing shoot-out, one of the two cars used by the assailants blew up, the witnesses said.
Syrian security forces are then said to have killed three gunmen and taken a fourth into custody. A member of the security forces was said to have been seriously wounded.
Police explosives specialists were brought in to examine the bodies of the dead gunmen to make sure they were not booby-trapped.
Amid conflicting reports of the number of explosions – perhaps as many as 15 – the state news agency, Sana, said that “a terrorist and sabotage group” had opened fire indiscriminately in Mazzeh. “The security services confronted them and are in full control of the situation,” Sana added.
Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustafa, appeared to blame al-Qa’eda for the attack last night.
“We have been doing our best against al-Qa’eda,” he said. “We share the same enemy [as America]. We aid the US in its fight against al-Qa’eda and terrorism.”
Sana gave no details of the attackers, or of their intended targets. But the incident will seriously rattle the Syrian regime which has maintained an iron grip on security in the capital since putting down an attempted coup in the 1980s.