Saturday, September 22, 2007

Americans warned on travel to Syria


WASHINGTON — The State Department has warned Americans against traveling to Syria.

The department has urged Americans to stay away from Syria amid threats of Islamic insurgency attack. Officials said the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad might be unable to stop attacks on Americans in the country.

"Travelers are advised to thoroughly consider the risks before travel to Syria and to take adequate precautions to ensure their safety if traveling to Syria," the department said in a travel warning on Sept. 18.

Officials said Syria's harboring of groups deemed terrorists poses a threat to Americans. The Assad regime has maintained the presence of Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, all groups financed by Iran.

The State Department has urged Americans in Syria to exercise caution and take measures to maintain their security. The measures include avoiding crowds and demonstrations, maintaining a low profile, revising travel times and routes, and ensuring valid travel documents.

In September 2006, the U.S. embassy in Damascus was stormed by assailants armed with bombs and assault weapons. The strike was attributed to an Al Qaida cell, but the Syrian regime, claiming that all of the attackers were killed, refused U.S. access to suspects.

"This attack underscores the danger posed by the continued presence of terrorist groups in Syria," the State Department said. "The embassy is working with the Syrian authorities to address these threats and the security issues raised by the attack on the embassy. While the authorities have taken measures since then to crack down on local extremists, self-contained groups with no links to external terrorist organizations will remain inherently difficult to detect and disrupt."

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