Syria demands US apology, compensation for raid

DAMASCUS, Syria - October 29, 2008 - 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."

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 Washington, officials speaking on condition of anonymity have said the target 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 that all the victims were Syrian civilians and that the government did not know the whereabouts of 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," Mekdad 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 another such attack 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.

On Tuesday, Syria's government announced it was ordering the closure of an American community school and cultural center in Damascus, but both institution were open Wednesday.

In Washington, the State Department said Syria officially asked the United States on Wednesday to close the American Cultural Center immediately and the American school by Nov. 6.

"We are looking at how to respond," spokesman Robert Wood said. In the meantime, he added, "we expect the Syrian government to provide adequate security for the buildings in which the American Cultural Center and Damascus Community School are housed."

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