19 Jul 2012

Key Syrian ministers die in bombing

2:14 am on 19 July 2012

Syria's defence minister and his deputy, the president's brother-in-law, have died in a suicide bombing at security headquarters in Damascus.

A rebel Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the deaths of Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha and President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat.

A security source told Reuters General Shawkat died in a Damascus hospital where he was taken after the attack

Syrian state TV says others are critically hurt, the BBC reports.

The bomb exploded at the headquarters of the National Security Bureau during a meeting of ministers and security officials.

Security sources say the suspected bomber worked as a bodyguard for members of President Assad's inner circle, the BBC reports. An Islamist group, Liwa al Islam, has claimed responsibility.

The area around the building, in the Rawda district, has been sealed off.

The attack comes amid claims of a major rebel offensive on the city, which Syrian officials have downplayed. There has been intense fighting in much of the city for several days.

The BBC reports General Rajiha had been defence minister for less than a year, serving previously as chief of staff, and was on a United States blacklist for his role in the suppression of dissent.

He was believed to be an Orthodox Christian - a rarity in the Alawite-dominated Syrian military and government.

General Shawkat was considered a top security chief and was a member of the inner circle of the regime, the BBC says. He was married to Mr Assad's sister Bushra.