updated 7/4/2005 8:39:43 AM ET 2005-07-04T12:39:43

Syrian security forces arrested two members of a militant group that allegedly included former bodyguards of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the state-run news agency reported Monday.

The two were detained after a fight on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus. One policeman was killed in the violence and two soldiers and two policemen were wounded, the news agency SANA reported.

SANA quoted an unidentified Information Ministry official as saying former Saddam bodyguards were in the group, along with criminals wanted for armed robbery.

The report on the government news agency came a day after Syria announced its forces had killed an Arab extremist near the Lebanese border and arrested 34 other foreign extremists — and noted that the actions were an effort to curtail militant activity in Syria, a persistent U.S. demand.

Security forces detained a Jordanian suspected militant, Sharif Ayed Saeed al-Smady, and his sister-in-law. The announcement identified the brother as Mohammed Islam, but no further details were provided on the woman. It was unclear how many suspected militants were involved in the battle.

The official said the operation was mounted following several days of surveillance of the suspected militant group. Security forces are continuing operations against the group, the official said without elaborating.

Syria has been under intense pressure to crack down on suspected militants who the United States and the Iraqi government claim are using Syrian territory to infiltrate into neighboring Iraq to fight coalition forces.

On Sunday, Syria’s Information Ministry said on its Web site that the U.S. pressure was aimed at forcing Syria to change its “position supporting resistance of occupation” — a reference to the militant Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.

Terrorist attacks are rare in this tightly controlled Arab country run by the Syrian arm of the Baath Party, which has used heavy-handed tactics to crackdown against any form of dissent or instability in the country.

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