DAMASCUS, Syria – Police raided a militant hide-out hours after a mysterious attack in the Syrian capital's diplomatic quarter that killed four people and may have targeted a building once occupied by the United Nations.
Police found weapons including rocket propelled grenades and guns during the raid in the nearby town of Khan al-Sheih (search), the state-controlled SANA news agency said.
Khan al-Sheih is about 18 miles southwest of the scene of Tuesday's clash and has a Palestinian refugee camp nearby.
The violence Tuesday was some of the worst in tightly controlled Syria since the 1980s, when the government put down an insurgency by Islamic militants. On Wednesday, residents swept away glass that was shattered by a bomb and small weapons fire during the attack.
Quoting a security source, the state-run SANA news agency called the attackers "a terrorist band," but government and witness accounts of Tuesday's battle shed little light on any possible motives.
An Interior Ministry official told SANA that four gunmen detonated a bomb placed under a car before firing bullets and grenades at Syrian security forces.
The government said two attackers, a policeman and a civilian were killed.
The target appeared to be a former United Nations office whose facade was blackened and scarred Wednesday, but witnesses said the gunmen appeared to have fired at random.
"The gunmen just got out of a car and began shooting randomly," said Bassam Adel, a civil servant who lives near the former U.N. offices. "It was very scary."
The owner of a flower shop near the former U.N. building just shook his head sadly when asked who he thought might have been responsible. The owner, who refused to give his name, said he saw little because he was cowering on the floor of his shop during the attack, which witnesses said lasted up to 1½ hours.
Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha (search), said in a telephone interview from Washington that it was too early to know the motivation of the attackers or whether they were Islamic extremists.
The government did not identify the civilian killed. But people in the neighborhood said she was a teacher at a middle school across the street from the former U.N. office.
A woman who would only identify herself as an assistant to the principal of the school said the victim was a 40-year-old gym teacher and that another woman connected with the school was wounded.
The two had been working late and walked into the crossfire as they left, said the principal's assistant, standing on the steps of the shuttered Flower of Damascus school (search), looking distraught and wearing black. The school was closed Wednesday.
Across the street, evidence of the battle scarred the four-story building that once housed the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (search), which monitors an agreement between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights.
The building's white and blue shutters were broken or charred, all of its windows were broken and its stone walls pocked by grenades. Damage inside also appeared extensive, but police kept observers from entering.
Windows on buildings as far as 200 yards away also were shattered.
All U.N. offices were closed in Damascus Wednesday, as was the U.S. Embassy, which is not in the neighborhood that saw Tuesday's violence.
Muslim extremists have portrayed the United Nations as a tool of the West, blaming the world body, for example, for the crippling international sanctions imposed on Iraq to punish Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait in 1990.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Syria's hard-line government fought a fierce war with Islamic fundamentalists of the Muslim Brotherhood (search), which was blamed for a 1980 assassination attempt on President Hafez Assad, the country's authoritarian leader who died from natural causes in 2000. Assad was succeeded by his son, Bashar Assad.
In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood staged a rebellion in the northern city of Hama. During the clashes, Syrian forces razed much of the city, killing as many as 10,000 people and finally crushing the Brotherhood after a five-year war.
Syria has been on the U.S. State Department's list of terror-sponsoring nations for its support of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that attack Israel. Syria, though, says the anti-Israeli groups are not terrorist, and that it has an interest in fighting Islamic extremist groups like Al Qaeda.