BBC News provides profiles of the men killed in today’s bombing in Damascus: President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Deputy Defence Minister Gen Asef Shawkat, as well as Defence Minister Gen Daoud Rajiha and former Defence Minister Hassan Turkomani. The bomb attack took place at the headquarters of the Baath Party Regional Command’s National Security Bureau (NSB) in the Rawda area of central Damascus.
Many media reports have repeated Syrian state media’s claim that this was a suicide bombing, although the Free Syrian Army have claimed that the bomb was concealed in a water cooler and set off remotely. That explanation sounds more plausible to me than the idea that anyone (including a body guard) could have gained access to such a meeting without the explosives strapped to his body catching anyone’s attention.
The regime certainly has an interest in portraying this attack as the work of suicidal Islamist extremists rather than as deadly blow from their primary adversary.
Reuters reported: Two rebel groups claimed responsibility for the attack on the security meeting.
“This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started,” said Qassim Saadedine, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, a group made up of army defectors and Sunni youths.
Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group the name of which means “The Brigade of Islam”, said it had carried out the attack after weeks of planning and gave a different version of events.
“Our men managed to plant improvised explosives in the building for the meeting. We had been planning this for over a month,” a spokesman for the group, who asked to be identified as Abu Ammar, said by telephone. State television said earlier that it was a suicide bombing.
@fsa_hq_syria tweeted: “#Syria the bomb was inside a water cooler in the room which was packed with 25 top thugs and was remote detonated from a distance”
The Washington Post reports: The rebel Free Syrian Army said its loyalists planted bombs inside a room where the government’s central command unit for crisis management — a special cell comprised of about a dozen of the country’s top security chiefs — was to meet to discuss efforts to crush the uprising.
The bombs were detonated remotely from outside the building once the meeting was underway, said Col. Malik Kurdi, the rebel group’s deputy commander. “The Free Syrian Army carried out this attack in retaliation for the massacres committed by the regime and because of the international silence,” Kurdi said. “We promised that we are going to hit the regime in its most sensitive axis. This was necessary for us.”
The government said others at the meeting were injured. Some news outlets reported that Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar was badly hurt and eventually died from his wounds, but the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said he and another official identified only as Lt. Gen. Hisham were in “stable” condition. The agency was apparently referring to Hisham Bakhtiar, Assad’s national security chief.
Meanwhile, AFP reports: More than 60 soldiers were Wednesday reported killed as rebels pressed their offensive to capture Damascus, upping the stakes ahead of a Security Council vote on a resolution threatening sanctions on Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said at least 20 government soldiers died on Tuesday in Damascus clashes with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and that between 40 and 50 were killed the previous day.
Columns of black smoke rose over the capital on Wednesday as the Local Coordination Committees, which organises anti-regime protests on the ground, reporting fighting in several districts.
The Qaboon neighbourhood was bombarded during the night and pounded again on Wednesday morning, the LCC said, as was Barzeh neighbourhood, and sustained gunfire was heard.
It also said there was less traffic than normal in the city where fighting has raged since Sunday, with the rebels announcing a full-scale offensive dubbed “the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria.”