Syrian Defense Minister Killed in Explosion
BEIRUT -- Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha was killed by a bomb which exploded during a meeting of ministers and security officials at a national security building in Damascus on Wednesday, state television said.
"The Minister of Defense was killed by the terrorist bombing that targeted the national security building," the report said.
Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad and Rajha's deputy, was also killed in a bomb attack, state TV said.
A security source told Reuters Shawkat died in a Damascus hospital where he was taken after the attack.
Syrian General Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister and senior military official, died later on Wednesday of wounds sustained in the bomb attack, the official TV station said.
Hezbollah's Al Manar TV said the Syrian interior minister was wounded in the explosion.
Syria's intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar was also wounded and is undergoing surgery, security sources said.
The bombing "occurred during a meeting of ministers and a number of heads of (security) agencies," state television said.
Activists in Damascus said by telephone that Republican Guards sealed of the Shami hospital in the capital after ambulances had brought casualties from the site of the explosion.
Syria vowed punishment for those responsible for the bomb attack, saying it would "chop any hand that harms national security."
"The armed forces are determined to terminate the killing gangs and criminals and pursue them wherever they go," a military statement read out on state television said. "Whoever thinks that by targeting some commanders they can twist Syria's arm, is delusional."
Two rebel groups claimed they carried out the attack, calling it a victory against Assad's inner circle, once seen as an impenetrable force.
Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group whose name means "The Brigade of Islam", said in a statement on its Facebook page that it had "targeted the cell called the crisis control room in the capital of Damascus."
"We happily inform the people of Syria and especially the people of the capital that the National Security Bureau, which includes what is called the crisis management cell, has been targeted with an explosive device by the Sayyed al-Shuhada brigade of Liwa al-Islam," the statement read.
"Several regime pillars have been killed," it added.
The Free Syrian Army also claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Qassim Saadedine, a spokesman. "This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started," he said.
A security source in Syria told Reuters that a bodyguard for the president's inner circle had detonated explosives at a meeting of ministers and President Assad's top security and military officials.
A spokesman for Liwa al-Islam confirmed the claim by telephone but denied that 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."
By Reuters, 18/07/2012