DAMASCUS: A suicide bomber yesterday struck at the heart of Syria’s security apparatus, killing the country’s defence minister and President Bashar
Al Assad’s brother-in-law, state television said.
The attack, which for the first time in a 16-month anti-regime uprising targeted members of Assad’s inner core, came hours ahead of a UN Security Council debate on Syrian sanctions, when a showdown between Western powers and Russia and China is expected.
Officials said the bomber struck as ministers and security officials were meeting at the heavily guarded National Security headquarters in Damascus.
Defence minister General Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat were killed and Interior Minister Mohammed Al Shaar and General Hisham Ikhtiyar, head of National Security, were wounded, the channel and security officials said.
Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. The FSA command “announces the good news of the outstanding operation this morning that targeted the National Security headquarters and the killing” of the officials “responsible for barbaric massacres,” it said in a statement.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Shawkat’s death “a severe blow to the Syrian regime since he played the main role in operations by regular forces to crush the revolution.”
State television reported that Assad had appointed Fahd
Al Freij as new defence minister, while Syria’s army vowed to “continue fighting terrorism.” “The terrorist act increases the armed forces’ determination to clean the country of terrorist groups,” it said in a statement.
Rajha, a Christian, was defence minister, deputy army chief and deputy head of the Council of Ministers. Shawkat was deputy defence minister.
The National Security branch headed by General Ikhtiyar is a linchpin of Syria’s security apparatus. The brazen attack on regime insiders came as battles raged across Damascus and after the FSA — comprising defected soldiers and civilians who have taken up arms against Assad’s forces — warned the government to “expect surprises.” The Local Coordination Committees, which organises anti-regime protests on the ground, reported that Damascus neighbourhoods were bombarded by loyalist forces. AFP