Syria demands apology for raid

October 29, 2008 11:59:20 AM PDT
Syria demanded Wednesday that the U.S. and Iraq apologize for an American commando raid mounted from Iraqi territory that killed eight people. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad denied U.S. claims that the helicopter raid by special forces Sunday killed a top al-Qaida in Iraq operative who was about to conduct an attack in Iraq.

"We ask of them (Iraqis) and the Americans to investigate and provide us with the background for such a criminal, terrorist act against an independent state ... (and) make an official apology for this aggression and pledge not to repeat it," Mekdad told The Associated Press in an interview. "What is required of the American government is to confess to this aggression and not be cowardly," he added.

The strike Sunday near the border with Iraq was an extremely rare U.S. attack on Syrian territory. Though there has been no formal acknowledgment from the United States, officials speaking to the media on condition of anonymity, have said the target of the raid was Badran Turki al-Mazidih, known as Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi national linked to al-Qaida in Iraq who was involved in smuggling fighters across the border.

Mekdad said all the victims were Syrian civilians and Damascus does not know the whereabouts of the wanted Iraqi, Abu Ghadiyah.

"The allegation that this person was killed is a false claim. Therefore, a search for him by world intelligence agencies, including Syria's, should continue," he said.

He said Iraq and the U.S. should compensate Syria and demanded they also pledge not to use Iraqi territory to attack Syria again. He warned that if it did happen again, it could torpedo agreements with Iraq.

The U.S. Embassy in Syria warned Americans in the country to remain alert and said it could close its doors to the public.

"The American community in Syria should be aware that unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time," said the message posted on the Embassy's Web site, which was dated Monday but was not widely available until Wednesday.

Syria's government ordered an American community school and cultural center closed and has complained to the United Nations. But students and teachers attended classes as usual at the Damascus Community School in the capital's upscale Maliki neighborhood despite the government's closure order. An employee at the American cultural center, which is linked to the embassy, said it was also open The Syrian Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Damascus and officially informed her of the government's decision to have the American school and the U.S. cultural center closed, the official news agency SANA reported. It said the U.S. diplomat was asked to take necessary measures to implement the decision.