Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Day the US Embassy was Attacked in Damascus, Sept. 2006

You may not have heard about the attack on the US embassy here in Damascus as it was unsuccessful and therefore only made the news for a day or so. The day was September 12. I was in class at the university when at 10:20 am, not soon after the attack started, I received a text message from an American I know at the embassy that there was fighting near the embassy with gunfire and to therefore stay away from the embassy. I felt so strange, not knowing what to think. I just thought to myself, okay, I’m in class, I’m in a safe place, so nothing to worry about. I wasn’t scared at all, but I was worried for the Americans and especially the young marines at the embassy. I wondered if the embassy would still exist in hour or maybe if it was a minor incident.
In the class break, I told the other American there in a different class about it and he freaked out. He said we had to get home right away because we are exposed to danger at the university. I couldn’t have disagreed with him more. He then went frantically searching for the director of the Arabic Language Institute. I later learned from other students in the class that he is paranoid and worries too much. He eventually ended up staying in class. I had two more text messages sent saying there was violence near the embassy and to stay away. My contact never said the embassy was attacked itself, only that violence was nearby, so I had hope it was nothing, until I read the actual news story at the end of day. During the class breaks, the other students were saying all kinds of rumors. The Japanese person in my class said his embassy told him that the US embassy was in flames, which was false. I realized I just had to wait till the end of the day and read the news report online for the truth. In the end, I learned the attack was stopped and I was happy and thankful. No Americans were hurt and one Syrian guard was killed. I later learned that an American teacher here on a US exchange program was sadly caught in the crossfire and decided to return back to the US. She may have been standing in the line to get into the embassy which starts outside along the street. Had the attack been successful, I probably would have been told by the organization administering my scholarship to study Arabic here to leave and I didn’t want to think about that as I really enjoy living and studying in Damascus.
In truth, I wasn’t very surprised that the attack occurred as the US embassy is not well protected. In Cairo, the roads around the embassy were sealed off and the embassy lied inside a think concrete wall. However, the US embassy here is small and lies right beside a major arterial roadway. In my first days when I had to go to the embassy to get a notarized paper to register at the university, I remember thinking to myself how an attack could be easily carried out. I feel safe in Damascus except when at the US embassy.

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