Video: Syrian troops flee after blast kills top officials
A massive blast struck the National Security building in Damascus on Wednesday morning, killing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most trusted security official, his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, defense minister, Dawoud Rajha, and former defense minister Hassan Turkmani.
As rebel forces celebrated, Damascus quickly appointed a new defense minister, Gen. Fahad Jassim Freij, who was previously the military chief of staff.
Several other senior officials were seriously wounded in the bombing, which took place as the regime’s top officials were holding security talks, and marked the most brazen rebel attack to date on the seat of government power.
Reuters said it was unclear whether Assad himself was present at the meeting.
An Israel Radio report said many Syrian troops deserted their positions in the capital after the blast. It quoted rebel sources saying troops had deserted numerous positions, abandoning army vehicles and materiel.
State TV reported that Assad’s brother-in-law, Shawkat, who held the formal title of deputy chief of staff but who headed the president’s military intelligence hierarchy and was leading the fight against opposition forces, died after being hospitalized in critical condition.
Israel Radio said Turkmani was an extremely senior and trusted official.
Interior Minister Muhammad al-Shaar was seriously wounded but in stable condition. Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar was undergoing surgery after being wounded.
Rebel leader Riad al-Asaad said in a phone interview from his headquarters in Turkey that rebel forces planted a bomb inside a room where senior government officials were meeting.
Reuters reported that the bomber worked as a bodyguard for Assad’s inner circle. Initial reports spoke of a suicide bomber. Later reports, however, appeared to confirm that a bomb had been placed in the room where the top officials met, and was detonated either by a timer or by remote control. (...)