Four key Syrian military officials including Defense Minister Gen. Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who served as his deputy, were killed this morning in an explosion during a high-level meeting at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus.
Syrian General Hassan Turkmani and Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar have died from wounds sustained in the blast. Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar is currently undergoing surgery for injuries sustained in the blast, a security source told Reuters.
A number of other attendees received serious injuries, and some of them remain in critical condition, the agency reported. Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and the commander of the Army's elite Fourth Armored Division, was among the injured.
The situation in Syria is "spinning out of control," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday, adding that President Bashar al-Assad's government would be held responsible if it failed to safeguard its chemical weapons sites.
Syrian TV has not broadcast footage of the attack, and a BBC correspondent who visited the area says there is no visible sign of damage.
The blast occurred in a traditionally safe and calm upscale region where many government buildings are located.
There have been conflicting reports on whether the bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber or was planted in the meeting room.
A Syrian rebel Islamist group, Liwa Al-Islam, has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement on Facebook that it "targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus."
A rebel commander identified as Riyad al-Assad says the bomb was planted inside a room where senior government officials were meeting. He denied information which suggested the deadly blast was a suicide bombing.
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.
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 Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) is reporting:
Ministry of Information: News and Photos Broadcast by Some Media on Terrorist Bombing at National Security HQ Baseless
The Syrian Ministry of Information said "Since the terrorist bombing which caused the death of Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense Gen. Dawood Rajiha, Deputy Minister of Defense Gen. Asef Shawkat and Assistant Vice-President Gen. Hassan Turkmani hundreds of websites, social networking websites and satellite channels started broadcasting huge amount of information, news and photos aimed at undermining the morals of the Syrian citizen."
In its statement on Wednesday, the Ministry stressed that all these news and photos are baseless and have been prepared by western intelligence apparatuses and psychological war centers, adding that the goals of this campaign revealed a clear weakness on the side of the conspirators against Syria abroad and their tools inside Syria.
The statement added that weakness and frustration pushed these websites and satellite channels towards such a desperate attempt to get out of its frustration.
The statement pointed out that "the Ministry condemns this cheap manner of media and calls for giving up these ways which have been exposed to the public opinion" as it calls these satellite channels and websites to admit of their failure in their open media war against Syria.
The ministry stressed that the hired media will not be able to achieve what the armed gangs failed to achieve.
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