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Syria foils US mission raid

Damascus, Sept. 12 (Reuters): Four men shouting Islamic slogans tried to blow up the US embassy in Damascus today but their car bomb failed to explode and Syrian security guards killed three of them in a shootout. No Americans were hurt.

The US, long at odds with Syria, voiced gratitude to Damascus for its swift response and suggested the two countries could turn a page in their troubled relationship.

“Syrian officials came to the aid of the Americans. The US government is grateful for the assistance the Syrians provided in going after the attackers,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. “We are hoping they will become an ally and make the choice of fighting against terrorists.” The US lists Syria as a sponsor of terrorism.

The state news agency Sana said a Syrian guard was killed and two others were among 13 people wounded in the attack.

Syrian state television said the attackers had tried but failed to detonate a car bomb.

“I saw two men in plain clothes and armed with grenades and automatic weapons,” said Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian political commentator who was in the area. “They ran towards the compound shouting religious slogans while firing their automatic rifles.”

Television footage of the scene showed a van packed with gas canisters and detonators taped to them, as well as bloodstains on the pavement and several damaged vehicles, including a white, bullet-riddled car that a truck was preparing to haul away.

The attack, one day after the fifth anniversary of al Qaida’s September 11 attacks on the US, was the first such shooting and bombing assault on an embassy in Damascus. Interior minister Bassam Abdel Majid said it was a “terrorist operation”.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said it was too early to know who was behind the attack. She also praised Syrian actions and expressed condolences over the guard’s death.

“I do think that the Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that,” she told a news conference in Canada.

Syrian-US relations have been tense for many years, mainly over Syria’s role in Lebanon, the West Asia conflict and Iraq, as well as its support for militant groups in the region.

A US embassy statement said the Syrian government had pledged “full security cooperation” in meetings between US diplomats and Syrian officials following the attack. Sana said three assailants had been killed and a fourth wounded. Eleven bystanders were wounded, including an Iraqi couple and a senior Chinese diplomat.

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