America was accused of “terrorism” today after its special forces raided alleged al-Qaida fighters sheltering inside the supposed safety of Syria.
The attack killed eight people and Syria immediately claimed all were innocent victims and included women and children, but journalists at their funerals today saw only men’s bodies.
A US military official in Washington confirmed the attack was aimed at the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq.
“We are taking matters into our own hands,” he said.
The Syrian government said four US helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before dusk on Sunday in the village of Sukkariyeh, about five miles inside the border.
Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, described the raid as an act of “criminal and terrorist aggression”.
The attack is another sign that the United States is aggressively launching military raids across the borders of Afghanistan and Iraq to destroy insurgent sanctuaries.
It came just days after the commander of US forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an “uncontrolled” gateway for fighters entering Iraq.
A Syrian government statement said eight people were killed, including a man and his four children and a woman. However, local officials said seven men were killed and two other people were wounded, including a woman among the injured.
One journalist at the funerals in the village’s cemetery saw the bodies of seven men – none of them children.
Syria’s foreign minister Walid al-Muallem was in Britain today and scrapped plans to hold a joint news conference with British counterpart David Miliband.
Some Iraqi officials warned that the attack could be used by opponents of a security pact under negotiation with the United States.
“Now neighbouring countries have a good reason to be concerned about the continued US presence in Iraq,” prominent Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said.
The attack came as the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been declining. The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.
Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to US intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.