Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Daoud Rajha was killed by a suicide bombing attack at a national security building in Damascus. His deputy – Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat – has also been mortally wounded by the blast.
Another prominent governmental figure targeted by the attack is Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar. Bekhtyar is currently undergoing surgery for injuries sustained in the blast, a security source told Reuters.
The bomber worked as a bodyguard for President Bashar Assad’s inner circle, the news agency reports its sources as saying.
It also cites a Facebook statement by Liwa Al-Islam, a Syrian rebel Islamist group which has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Free Syrian Army also claimed responsibility for the attack, according to spokesman Qassim Saadedine.
The Syrian government put the blame for the “terrorist bomb attack” on “hired hands” and pledged to pursue perpetrators and wipe out “criminal gangs,” state TV reported.
A meeting of Syrian ministers and security officials was taking place on the premises at the time of the blast. Several top Syrian officials have been badly wounded by the bombing. The area around the national security building in Rawda district has been cordoned off.
It is the highest-profile killing of a Syrian official during the 17-month-long conflict in the country. Earlier lower-ranking officials and military officers had reportedly been killed or abducted by the armed opposition.
The attack comes amid a major armed opposition offensive in the city. The fourth day of fighting has seen gunfights erupting within sight of Bashar Assad’s presidential palace.
The violence comes ahead of a UN Security Council session which is tasked with deciding whether to prolong an observer mission in Syria before it expires on Friday. All members agree that the mission should continue its work, but differ on the wording of a resolution which would allow it happen.
Russia and China propose a neutral resolution calling on a cessation of all hostilities. Western members have called for a stronger document which would open the way for sanctions or even military action against the Syrian government if it fails to stop using heavy weapons against the rebels and withdrawal its troops from the streets.