Syrian defense minister killed by suicide bomber
This one hits close to home for Assad. Syrian defense minister, Daoud Rajha, and Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law who was the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military, were killed by a suicide bomber yesterday.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said all the members of the crisis group set up by President Assad to try to put down the revolt were are either dead or injured. But there was no official confirmation of that account.
With tensions already high in Damascus after three days of clashes between the Syrian Army and rebels near the city center, SANA, the official news agency, described the assault as a "suicide terrorist attack." Opponents claimed a major victory.
"The Syrian regime has started to collapse," said the activist who heads the Syrian Observatory. "There was fighting for three days inside Damascus, it was not just a gun battle, and now someone has killed or injured all these important people."
Rumors swirled around Damascus that the bomber was the minister's bodyguard, but there was no confirmation of those reports. The attack came despite a huge security presence to isolate embattled neighborhoods of the capital.
The casualties were from the core team trying to enforce a security solution to the uprising in Syria, and in such a tense, suspicious climate, it was not clear who Mr. Assad might find to replace them.
"If a bodyguard blew himself up, then there a major internal security breach," said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese military officer and a military analyst.
Shawkat was Assad's hatchet man. He served for years as head of Syrian intelligence and he was the front man for Assad when the Syrians occupied Lebanon and is thought to have been responsible for several high profile assassinations in that country, including having involvement in the death of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. His loss is a huge blow to the Syrian president as Shawkat was among the most trusted of his inner circle.
There is no confirmation that a body guard blew themselves up so speculation that no one in the inner circle is safe is useless. Rather, as the analyst in the Times story points out, you just don't reach into the ranks and appoint someone you can trust. In a gangster government such as Assad runs, loyalty is a thin reed and at the very least, Assad's normal paranoia about those around him has probably increased ten fold simply because the people he must use to replace his trusted aides are an unknown quantity, relatively speaking.
But Assad is proving himself a survivor so far. I doubt this is the beginning of the end and represents an inconvenience for the Syrian president, and not a roadblock.
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