July 6, 2005

Syrian ‘terror’ suspects seen as ‘thieves’ in U.S.

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian security forces arrested two
more people suspected of belonging to a "terror group," but a
U.S. official said Wednesday the suspects appeared to be
jewelry thieves rather than terrorists.

The two arrested were identified as Mohammad Islam bin
Abdul-Rahman Ahmad al-Semadi, a 30-year-old Jordanian who the
official Syrian news agency said was also known as Raafat, and
Rehab Shehab, a woman whose nationality was not disclosed.

Security forces arrested two other members of the group on
Monday after a clash in which an officer was killed and four
security personnel were injured.

The Syrian Arab News Agency quoted an official source at
the Information Ministry as saying that security forces were
still pursuing other members of what it called a "terror and
armed robbery group."

Some suspects were said to have worked as bodyguards for
former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
said those arrested by Syria were Jordanian nationals who
belong to a criminal gang, not a terror organization like al
Qaeda, Hizbollah or Hamas.

"They're thieves, jewelry thieves (who steal) gold and
stuff like that. Your good old regular criminals," said the
official, who put the total number of Syrian arrests at six.

The United States is pressing Syria to seal its border with
Iraq because Washington says Islamist militants are crossing
the frontier to fight U.S. forces.