Damascus Embassy Attack: Al Qaeda? Amateurs? Assad PsyOp?

Reacting to news that this morning’s attack on the American Embassy in Damascus, Syria was apparently carried out by an al-Qaeda offshoot group called Jund al-Sham, Steven Taylor wonders whether it’s even important anymore.

[T]he very nature of al Qaeda is such that almost any al Qaeda group is an offshoot. To me the operative issue is whether a group is coordinating with a broader al Qaeda network […]

Indeed, I continue to wonder as to what degree we can talk about al Qaeda as any kind of cohesive group and whether we create an analytically imprecise category by trying to put all these attacks into the al Qaeda box.

It’s a fair question but one with no easy answers.

Dan Drezner thinks that this is either an amateur small group operation or a sign that al Qaeda is “having a really bad draft year.”

“Smash”, too, thinks this attack was “amateur hour.”

The key differences between this attack and previous attacks which were positively associated with al-Qaeda are size and execution. Al-Qaeda typically use multiple teams to breach the security at several locations, in order to complicate efforts to defend the primary target. They then follow up with one or more “big bang” explosions, typically using large trucks.

David Schenker notes, too, that this was a comparatively soft target: “The Embassy in Damascus has almost no setback from the street, and is among the most vulnerable US diplomatic facilities in the region.” He’s a little dubious of the reports as well, implying (or perhaps I’m just inferring) that the Syrians might be hyping the severity of the attack.

His CT Blog colleague, Walid Phares, makes an even bolder statement: “According to well informed Syrian sources, today’s Terrorist attack against the US embassy in Damascus is one of the “Machiavellian” Assad operations.” He no little evidence beyond the unnamed source(s) but provides a detailed and plausible rationale for it. As Drudge would say, Developing . . .

Spelling errors corrected.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Please spell Damascus correctly.


  2. James Joyner says:

    Oddly, I spelling it correctly this morning.

  3. Heh. It happens. Oddly you spelled it correctly at the end but incorrectly multiple times at the beginning.

  4. I think the prize has to go to the Reuters opener.

    Gunmen killed in U.S. embassy attack in Damascus
    By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
    DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Four gunmen shouting religious slogans attacked the U.S. embassy in Damascus on Tuesday, but failed to harm any American diplomats before all four were killed, a Syrian official said.
    The official said all U.S. diplomats were safe. A witness said at least one Syrian security guard had been killed.

    So four gunmen shouting religious slogans attacked the US Embassy. As Anderson would say, “Damn those orthodoxifacist”. Is it really to much for Al “we were just cleaning the dust of the photos” Reuters to mention that the common link here may be islamofacism?