DAMASCUS, Syria – Armed gunmen believed to be Islamic militants attacked the U.S. Embassy in Syria’s capital Tuesday with gunfire and two explosives-packed cars in a rare instance of extremist violence in this authoritarian and largely secular Arab country.

Syrian security personnel killed three of the attackers, and the assault failed to breach the embassy’s security perimeter. One Syrian security guard was killed and more than a dozen people were injured, Syrian officials said. No Americans were hurt.

Witnesses said four assailants shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) assaulted the embassy at about 10 a.m. local time, exchanging heavy gunfire with Syrian guards.

Syria’s interior minister, Gen. Bassam Abdul Majid, told state-run television that the assailants tried to detonate two cars full of explosives next to the embassy. One car exploded, but another one failed to detonate, he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Syrian officials implied that the attack was the work of a militant group known as Jund al Sham, Arabic for “Soldiers of Syria.” Little is known about the group, which is thought to have links to the Iraqi branch of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The attack underscored the complexities of a region that the Bush administration has sought to divide into supporters and enemies of terrorism. Syria has long supported Hezbollah, Hamas and several Palestinian terrorist groups, but one of al-Qaida’s aims is ousting secular regimes such as Syria’s and replacing them with Islamic rule.

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