A suicide bomber killed Syria’s defense minister and President Bashar Assad’s
brother- in-law in Damascus on Wednesday.
The bomber, apparently an
insider and possibly a trusted bodyguard, struck at the daily meeting attended
by ministers and senior security officials at the National Security building as
battles raged inside Damascus, within sight of the nearby presidential
Syria’s Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Assef Shawkat, Assad’s
brother-inlaw, were killed in the blast.
Later on Wednesday, Syrian state
television confirmed that Gen. Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister and
senior military official, had also died from wounds sustained in the attack,
confirming earlier reports from security sources.
Muhammad Ibrahim al-Shaar was wounded but stable, and intelligence chief Hisham
Bekhtyar was undergoing surgery, according to a Syrian security source who spoke
On Wednesday evening, the Syrian National Council, a
coalition of opposition groups based in Istanbul, said the bombing was “a
turning point in the Syrian conflict, which will be over within weeks or
“This is the final phase. They will fall very soon,” Abdelbasset
Seida of the Syrian Free Army said in an interview in the Qatari capital
“Today is a turning point in Syria’s history. It will put more
pressure on the regime and bring an end very soon, a matter of weeks or
Western leaders said Wednesday’s bombing increased the urgency
for tougher UN action, a stance rejected by Russia.
The bomb that killed
Rajha, Shawkat and Turkmani will weaken morale and might accelerate high-level
defections, but does not signal the president’s imminent downfall, analysts
Two rebel groups scrambled to claim responsibility for the
explosion, hailing it as successful strike at the heart of the
Shortly after news of the attack broke, the Lebanese
Broadcasting Channel news site reported that Liwa al-Islam (The Brigade of
Islam), a Syrian rebel Islamist group, had claimed it carried out the
“We are happy to inform the people of Syria and also the people
of the capital that thanks to God we targeted the National Security building,
which includes what is called the crisis management cell, in the capital
Damascus,” the group said in a statement on its Facebook page.
explosive charge was laid by the Sayyed al-Shuhada brigade of Liwa al-Islam,
during a meeting of the senior gang of criminals of the regime and its pillars,”
the statement continued.
The Free Syrian Army also claimed responsibility
for the attack, according to Col. Qassim Saad el-Din, a spokesman. “This is the
volcano we talked about, we have just started,” he said.
added that Wednesday’s bombing was “only the beginning of a long series of
operations” designed to destroy Assad, his regime “and all its pillars and
The bombing targeted the National Security Bureau, Saad el-Din
said, to kill “pillars of Assad’s responsible for committing brutal massacres
that claimed the lives of children, women and the elderly.”
source in Syria told Reuters that a bodyguard for the president’s inner circle
had detonated explosives at a meeting of ministers and Assad’s top security and
A spokesman for Liwa al-Islam confirmed the claim by
telephone but denied it was a suicide attack.
“Yes we did the attack, but
there was no suicide bomber,” said the man, who asked to be identified as Abu
Ammar. “Our men managed to plant improvised explosives in the building for the
meeting. We had been planning this for over a month.”
In a speech marking
the sixth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah chief Hassan
Nasrallah said, “We express our condolences to the Syrian leadership, army and
people and condemn the attack that served the enemy interests.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond
warned that the Syrian regime would be held responsible for securing its
Late on Wednesday evening, the White House said the US
was closely monitoring Syria’s military facilities and believed its chemical
stockpile remained under government control.
The Security Council has
postponed until Thursday a vote on a Western-backed resolution that threatens
Syrian authorities with sanctions in a bid to end the conflict, Russia’s UN
envoy said on Wednesday.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan had requested
the delay amid differences between Moscow and the resolution’s Western sponsors
over whether Damascus should be threatened with sanctions.
Riani said the suicide bombing was “in some ways the most successful direct
attack on the regime we’ve had so far.”
“I think the next few days are
going to be crucial in signaling where the conflict goes from here,” said Riani,
a Middle East analyst at the Control Risks consultancy.
“At the very
least, we can expect the situation to continue to deteriorate. But I think it
will take more than this to take the Assad regime down.”
attack at a meeting of top security officials and ministers in the heart of
Damascus will send a message to the top members of the Syrian government that
they are vulnerable.
“It sends a stark message that individual ministers
are not safe and is likely to accelerate the erosion of the regime’s support
base,” said Anthony Skinner, head of Middle East consultancy
The Syrian Defense Ministry said that “this act of cowardice
will only add to our resolve to combat terrorism with renewed energy.”
spokesman for the Syrian Information Ministry said: “Every country and entity
that sent weapons and US dollars to Syria is a partner in this crime.”
news of the day’s began to spread, there were unconfirmed reports that Syrian
troops had begun to defect en masse.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, Syrian
state TV reported that a new defense minister, Gen. Fahad Jassim Freij, had been
appointed to replace Rajha.
Freij, who was previously the chief of staff
of the armed forces, is from Hama province, a center of the revolt.
the aftermath of the attack, Syrian forces hit rebel positions across the
capital, state media said, shortly after Damascus vowed to punish those
responsible for the bomb attack.
SANA also said that armed forces had
killed a large number of “terrorists” in the central Damascus neighborhood of
Midan and clashed in the district of Qaboun, and later also in Selquin and Kafar
Activists in neighborhoods that have seen fighting over the
past four days said that government troops and pro-government militias were
flooding in to quash rebels.
“There is a very heavy presence of security
forces in the streets now,” said Susan Ahmad, a resident of Barzeh where rebels
have been hiding out.
“Apart from Assad’s forces, the streets are empty,”
State television broadcast footage it said was filmed on
Wednesday, showing men in blue army fatigues ducking for cover and firing – the
first time official media have shown clashes in the heart of the capital.