Syria has condemned a US helicopter strike which caused the deaths of seven civilians as an act of ‘terrorism’.
US officials claim that Abu Ghadiyah, a key figure involved in smuggling insurgents into Iraq was killed in the attack on a farm in the village of Sukkiraya, about five miles from the Iraq-Syria border, and have labelled the operation ‘a success’.
A neighbour, Osama Malla, described how four US helicopters approached the farm from different directions. Two reportedly hovered above the building while the other two landed for about five minutes, during which soldiers disembarked and opened fire into the building.
Seven civilians were killed, including three children.
Suleiman Ghadbhan, head of the hospital in nearby Bou Kamal, confirmed: “The hospital received seven bodies aged between 16 and 50 and three wounded.”
Unverified amateur footage captured on a mobile telephone appears to show bloodstained bodies, while Reuters television has shown a bullet-ridden truck and bloodstains and spent cartridge cases on the ground outside a farm building.
Ironically, the US had reportedly opted for a troop assault over a missile strike in an effort to reduce civilian casualties.
However, Syria says that all the victims were unarmed civilians and condemned the attack as ‘terrorist aggression’.
Sudan Foreign Minister Walid Muallem named the dead as a father and his three children, a farm guard and his wife, and a fisherman.
He said: “Killing civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression. We consider this criminal and terrorist action.”
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh added: The Iraqi government rejects the US helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that
Iraq’s constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighbouring countries. We call upon American forces not to repeat such activities and Baghdad has launched an investigation into the strike.””
The USA has yet to comment formally on the raid, but US troops stationed in Western Iraq have distanced themselves from the events, saying that it was carried out by a special unit outside the regular US command structure.
A US military official insisted that the raid targeted a network of foreign insurgents at the farm, saying: “The attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq. The latest of these groups killed 13 police recruits in an Iraqi border village.””
The raid seems to have been launched because US forces had received intelligence that Abu Ghadiyah, linked to an attack last spring in which 11 Iraqi policemen were killed, was about to strike again.
A US intelligence official told Associated Press: “The tripwire was knowing an attack was imminent, and also being able to pinpoint his location.”
Even so, this could have serious diplomatic repercussions, threatening to derail attempts by Britain and France to bring Syria back into the international community, after years of being branded as a supporter of terrorism and linked to assassinations in Lebanon.