Troops kill 5 militants in Hama clash

DAMASCUS (AP) — Syrian troops have clashed with members of a militant group in the northern city of Hama — a region that once saw brutal clashes between the government and radicals. Five militants were killed, Syria’s state-run news agency reported Saturday.
SANA, quoting an unnamed official at the Syrian interior ministry, said the clash took place Friday night in the province of Hama and that the militants belonged to the Jund Sham militant organisation. None of the militants survived, the news agency said. The agency said the clash began when anti-terrorism forces raided the group’s hideout — an isolated house in the village of Jibreen which the group used as a base for its operations. Police seized weapons, bombs and explosives at the house, the agency said. Two members of the Syrian forces were wounded, it added.

The ministry official said the group was planning to carry out terrorist operations and destabilise security in the country.

Jund Sham, whose name in Arabic means Soldiers of Syria, is a well-known organisation that was set up in Afghanistan by Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian militants and has links to Abu Mussab Zarqawi, the head of Qaida in Iraq.

Syrian authorities have been monitoring Jund Sham for months and have clashed with members of the group which it said were planning to launch bomb attacks in Damascus.

In July, the Syrian government said its security forces clashed with a band of militants — including former bodyguards of toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and others involved in the insurgency in Iraq — on a resort mountain overlooking Damascus. One policeman was killed and two were injured as were two soldiers.

During those clashes, security forces captured a suspected Jordanian militant, Sharif Ayed Saeed Smadi, and the wife of his brother, Mohammed Smadi. The brothers were close to the Jund Sham militant group, officials said.

In June, Syrian forces raided the hideout of a group of suspected terrorists linked to Jund Sham in the Daff Shouk suburb of Damascus, killing two and foiling alleged bomb plots. A Syrian security force member was also killed in the clash.

During that raid, Syrian forces seized documents in which the group said it would wage its holy war, or jihad, in Middle East countries that are run by what it called “despotic regimes,” including Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq.

The group has also claimed responsibility for an October attack on resort hotels in Sinai, Egypt, that killed 34 people, and a March bombing at an international school in Qatar that killed a British resident.

Syria has been under intense international pressure to root out suspected militants who the United States and Iraq claim are using Syrian territory to infiltrate into neighbouring Iraq. US forces have launched a series of offensives against the militants near the Syrian border in recent months.

Terrorist attacks are rare in Syria, a tightly-controlled country where the regime has used heavy-handed tactics to crack down against extremism as well as any form of dissent or instability.

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