On Sunday 07/03/2005, two Syrian security personnel and a militant, identified only as M.Z, were killed in a gunfight along the Syrian-Lebanese border North West of the Capital Damascus, on the Northern slops of Jabel al-Sheikh (Mount Hermon in Hebrew). Other 34 members of the group were surrounded and arrested by the Syrian forces that were, most likely, tipped off.
The group of non-Syrians was heading to Lebanon after they returned, through Syria, from Iraq.
The next day, on Monday 07/04/2005 early in the morning, Syrian security agents raided a militant hideout connected to the anti-American insurgency in Iraq, on Mount Qassioun, in the North-West outskirt of Damascus which offers scenic views over the town and is favored as a picnic spot by city dwellers. The hideout served as the coordination and operational center for the group arrested the previous evening in Jabel al-Sheikh (Mount Hermon in Hebrew).
Two members of the group were arrested in the fighting, in which four policemen were also hurt. A Syrian official, quoted by the Syrian news agency – SANA, identified one captured militant as a Jordanian citizen, Sharif Ayed Saed al-Semadi. Police also reportedly arrested his brother’s wife Manal al-Semadi. The brother himself, Mohammad Ayed Saed al-Semadi surnamed Mohammad Islam, 30, was arrested two days later on 07/06/2005 with two other Jordanian brothers Raafat Shihab and Rihab Shihab.
All five suspects were wanted by Jordan for armed robbery – The Shihab brothers were already in custody in Jordan but managed to escape about a year before when they were brought to Jordanian court. The group was under surveillance for some time.
The al-Semadi brothers were close to the Jund al-Sham militant group and were part of a network set up in Syria by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq. Al-Arabiya satellite television channel, apparently with permission from Syrian intelligence, reported the al-Semadi brothers had been in Iraq before the US-led invasion to Iraq in 03/2003. They joined the Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary militia which the Iraqi leader formed to fight the invading USA troops and, eventually, joined Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group in Iraq.
USA officially claimed, through the Pentagon’s spokesmen, on 07/07/2005, that the Qassioun incident was not a terror act but an attempt to arrest armed outlaws who fled the police.
** Just a month earlier, on 06/08/2005 midnight, the Syrian police clashed with a squad of Jund al-Sham in a Damascus Southern suburb. The squad leader Abu Omar and another activist, Abu Ahmed, were killed and a third one was arrested. The interrogation of the detainee led the police to an apartment where they found a stash of weapons and ammunition, documents which proved the group had planned various attacks in Damascus and surrounding areas, and a car bomb in its assemblage.
It was probably the car bomb that made the Syrians change their policy and to crack down on Jund al-Sham, which was operating in Syria almost freely and with Syrian security overlooking its activity until then.
** Since the assassination of the former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri in Beirut, on 02/14/2005, there is a Syrian internal rivalry between different security and intelligence organizations, some of the under the supervision of the younger brother of the Syrian President Bashar Assad – Maher Assad, who was implicated in an international investigation as being behind the assassination, and other organizations under the supervision of Bashar Assad’s brother in law - Assaf Shaukat. Jund al-Sham was, most likely, affiliated to on side in the rivalry and was used as a tool against the other faction.
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