L’analisi della Stratfor sull’attentato all’Ambasciata statunitense in Siria:
Syria: The Poorly Executed Attack
September 12, 2006 19 25 GMT
A covered pickup truck loaded with poorly constructed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remained intact Sept. 12 after the smoke cleared from a gunbattle between Syrian security forces and at least four attackers outside the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria. Three of the attackers and a Syrian security guard died in the fighting, while a fourth attacker and about 14 other people were injured. No U.S. citizens were among the casualties. At first glance, the incident appears to have been a jihadist attack against the embassy, though if that is the case the perpetrators quite obviously failed to adequately plan and execute the operation.
Not only were the IEDs poorly constructed — meaning they probably lacked sufficient power to even breach the embassy compound’s perimeter wall, let alone damage the interior of the compound — the attacking force also was completely inadequate for hitting a hard target such as the embassy. The compound is surrounded by Syrian security forces, and guarded on the inside by U.S. Marines. Although small details suggest the embassy was the target, it is hard to believe such an attack would have been so botched.
An analysis of the preliminary details of the attack suggests the Syrian response was swift and aggressive. Plainclothes Syrian security officers appear to have engaged the attackers before they were able to position themselves for the attack. As the shooting began, some of the attackers reportedly ran into a nearby building and continued firing from there. At least two of the attackers reportedly were seen running toward the embassy, firing automatic rifles and throwing at least one grenade. The fighting lasted for 15 minutes to about half an hour, according to different witnesses.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Damascus’ Rawda district, an area that also houses many other foreign embassies and Syrian government buildings, as well as palaces used by Syrian President Bashar al Assad. One of these palaces is within 980 feet of the U.S. Embassy, which is partly the reason for the tight security in the area. Because of the number of high-value targets in the area, however, only a serious investigation into the attack would reveal the true target — and U.S. investigators probably are not going to be allowed close to this one.
Due to the tension between Washington and Damascus, the degree of Syrian surveillance around the U.S. Embassy in Damascus is equal to that which was in place outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during the Cold War. In addition to the approximately 30 Syrian guards posted around the embassy on any given day, the compound is under constant and heavy surveillance by Syrian intelligence and security forces. This surveillance begins several blocks out, and all locals in the vicinity are watched by the Syrians as possible U.S. intelligence sources. Anyone acting suspiciously near the embassy immediately attracts the attention of Syrian security forces.
The high level of security in the district, and in Damascus in general, might have prevented the militants from conducting adequate pre-operational surveillance, which would go a long way toward explaining the poor planning and execution of the attack. It would also explain the rapid Syrian response.
The attackers used two vehicles: a pickup truck topped with a hard camper/cargo shell and rigged with multiple IEDs, and a Mitsubishi Lancer car, possibly ferrying one of the assault teams. After the attack, the truck remained parked against the embassy perimeter. If it was purposely positioned there, it could have been meant to detonate and breach the wall, allowing an assault team to enter the embassy grounds, possibly with the goal of killing U.S. diplomatic personnel. This tactic is not unprecedented, as the December 2004 attack against the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, demonstrates.
The IEDs in the truck appear to have been made locally from propane tanks, each with three pipe bombs taped around them. Propane tanks are used extensively in the Middle East, so a purchase of several tanks would not arouse the suspicions of Syrian security forces. The construction of the IEDs, however, suggests they would not have been effective, even had they exploded. In the first place, the three pipe bombs on each tank would have had to detonate simultaneously to ignite the gas and increase the power of the explosion. Then, all of the IEDs would have to detonate simultaneously — a more difficult task than it would seem. Finally, even had the gas in the cylinders ignited, the damage probably would have been limited. The lack of effective IEDs and proficiency in their construction suggests the IEDs were not smuggled in from Iraq, and that attackers probably were not linked to al Qaeda in Iraq.
The more-powerful, military-grade explosives easily found in Iraq and used by insurgents to construct IEDs there would have been much more effective than the propane tank and pipe bomb IEDs found at the scene. In addition, Iraq-based insurgents have refined IED construction to an art, while the bombmaker in this attack seems to have been less than proficient.
Witnesses reported that the attackers did detonate an IED inside the Lancer, although photographs taken of the car following the attack indicate the car burned, but did not explode. Even a small pipe bomb inside a vehicle causes more damage than what is evidenced in the photo of the Lancer. Instead, then, the car might have been set ablaze by Syrian security forces’ return fire. The truck bomb also failed to detonate, either because it malfunctioned or the person assigned with detonating it was unable to do so.
Although these particular attackers planned poorly regardless of their true target, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus is a vulnerable target. In the first place, the embassy is not an Inman design, a building constructed to include security features recommended by a commission chaired by former Deputy CIA Director Adm. Bobby Inman following the 1983 attacks in Beirut, Lebanon. These features include few windows, anti-vehicle barriers and long standoff distances to the building. Occupying a corner of al Mansour and Atal Ayyoubi streets, the wedge-shaped compound is bordered on two sides by public streets. Like embassies in other diplomatic quarters of old cities, the streets come right up to the compound’s walls, meaning there is very little standoff distance — certainly not as much as recommended by the Inman Commission, and much less than is required for new embassy buildings. In addition, nearby buildings are taller and overlook the embassy, with a view right down into the courtyard.
The incident bears similarities to one in April 2004, when Syrian security forces surprised a car full of gunmen in front of the Canadian Embassy in Damascus. The car was rigged with an IED, possibly for use in an attack against a target other than the Canadian Embassy. The target of that attack remains unclear.
Although the Syrian government has pledged full cooperation with the United States, it is unlikely that Damascus will give U.S. investigators much access to the details of the case. After the 2004 incident, the Syrians refused to allow U.S. investigators into the country, preferring to control all aspects of the investigation themselves. Although the type of operation suggests this was a jihadist effort, should Damascus block Washington from participating in the investigation, the real motive behind the attack will unlikely be revealed any time soon.