A suicide bomber killed the top two defense officials and the president’s national security advisor, and seriously wounded the interior minister and the chief of the national security office, in an attack at a high-level meeting of security officials in Damascus today. The attack was claimed by both the “Brigade of Islam” and the Free Syrian Army.
The suicide bomber, who is said to have been a bodyguard of a senior official in the Assad regime, detonated his explosive vest during a high-level meeting at the National Security building in the Syrian capital. Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, who is also President Bashir al Assad’s brother-in-law, and Hasan Turkmani, Assad’s national security adviser and assistant vice president, were killed in the blast, according to the state-run Syrian television. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar and the chief of the national security office, Hisham Bekhtyar, were wounded in the attack.
Both the Free Syrian Army and an Islamist group calling itself the Brigade of Islam claimed credit for the attack. The Liwa al Islam, or Brigade of Islam, claimed it “targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus,” in a statement on its Facebook page, according to Al Jazeera.
The Free Syrian Army, which holds itself out as being the secular opposition to Assasd’s regime, said the attack was just the beginning of their offensive in Damascus. The group has previously denied responsibility for suicide attacks against security forces and said Islamist terror groups are not present in its ranks.
“This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started,” spokesman Qassim Saadedine told Al Jazeera.
Today’s attack took place as Damascus entered its fourth day of heavy fighting. The Assad regime has deployed tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and attack helicopters against rebel forces that have infiltrated the Syrian capital. Hundreds have been reported killed in the fighting.
For 17 months, the Assad regime has been fighting a tenacious rebellion against the Free Syrian Army and Islamist terror groups such as the Al Nusrah Front, the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Al Nusrah has claimed credit for several suicide attacks and complex assaults against Syrian security forces since the group announced its existence at the beginning of the year. More than 17,000 Syrians are reported to have been killed since the rebellion began early last year.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.