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Fury sweeps Syria after US raid

Anti-American demonstration in Sukkiraya
Demonstrations against America and President Bush followed the deadly raid

By Paul Wood
BBC News, Sukkiraya

Souad Khousaim lay very still on her hospital bed and in a quiet voice wracked with pain told me she was one of the innocent victims of Sunday's raid by US special forces.

"I went outside to get my son and the Americans shot me," she says. "They were very close, five metres away. I was screaming, terrified."

Her husband was among the seven Syrian men who died, but hospital officials have not told her this yet.

The US military sent troops 8km (five miles) into Syria, to the village of Sukkiraya, to take action which they hope will help shut down al-Qaeda's secret pipeline into Iraq for men, weapons and money.

The mission was to capture or kill, Abu Ghadiya, an Iraqi-born al-Qaeda cell leader the US says has helped to bring thousands of jihadist fighters across the border.

'Over in minutes'

We went to the place where the raid is said to have happened - a breeze-block compound on the banks of the Euphrates, which flows gently from Syria into Iraq.

Bullet holes in truck at site of raid - 29/10/2008

The compound's wall was peppered with bullet holes. A villager told me that two helicopters had hovered overhead, firing at the compound. Another two landed, allowing soldiers to dismount.

The Americans searched the place, then left, the villager said. It was all over in minutes. A few bullet casings remained behind in the compound, along with scattered shoes belonging to the dead men.

Local people were adamant that the men killed were all civilians: builders who had just laid the foundations for a new house, along with a night watchman (the husband of the woman I had met in hospital).

Of the man who was the target of this operation, Abu Ghadiya, there was no mention.

While secret policemen and government officials hovered nearby, everyone gave the same version of events: Al-Qaeda was never here; there was no gun battle; this was an American war crime.

Flag burning

Five of those killed were from the same family, a man and four adult sons. His widow met me surrounded by 20 or so grandchildren, who were all now fatherless.

Souad Khousaim in hospital recovering from wounds she says she received in raid - 29/10/2008
Souad Khousaim said she was wounded by US soldiers

An elderly male relative angrily denies that the dead men had anything to do with al-Qaeda.

"The world must see what the Americans have done here," he shouted, close to tears, while men from the village nodded in agreement.

In the nearby town of Albu-Kamel, an anti-American protest was going on. Several thousand people had gathered, waving pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and burning US flags.

This was government organised - but the angry mood we saw there seems to have seized the whole nation.

Syrians are outraged about what they say is the violation of their sovereignty and their territory.

The Americans say they have the right of self-defence - even if that means crossing an international border.

A new US presidential order has reportedly been made to this effect. It means the Americans will be prepared to take such action again in future, in Syria and elsewhere.

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SEE ALSO
US Syrian embassy 'may be shut'
29 Oct 08 |  Middle East
Profile: Abu Ghadiya
28 Oct 08 |  Middle East
Syria raid 'killed major target'
28 Oct 08 |  Middle East
Syria hits out at 'terrorist' US
28 Oct 08 |  Middle East
What could lie behind Syria raid?
26 Oct 08 |  Middle East
Country profile: Syria
01 Oct 08 |  Country profiles


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