This post has been updated.
A bombing in Damascus killed two of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s top security officials, the Post reported, and the opposition Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack. Dawoud Rajha and Asef Shawkat were reportedly central to the Assad regime.
The head of the cell dedicated to crisis operations and a former defense minister, Turkmani, 74, was believed to be the oldest member of Assad’s cabinet.
A Sunni Muslim and career military man, Turkmani served as a commander in the Syrian army for most of his professional life. He commanded a mechanized division of the Syrian army during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. In 2002, he was appointed chief of staff of the Syrian Army, a move that was seen at the time as restoring sectarian diversity in the nation’s military establishment.
Syrian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha
The former chief of staff of the Syrian Arab Army and the land forces of the Syrian military, Rajha was appointed defense minister in August 2011 amid the Arab Spring uprising. He was demonized by many as the architect of the Assad regime’s violent crackdown on demonstrators since his promotion last year.
Rajha, 65, also was the most prominent Christian leader in Assad’s government and seen as a champion for the Christian minority inside Syria, which represents about 10 percent of the population. He replaced Ali Habib Mahmoud, who had his assets frozen and travel restricted by the international community over human rights abuses.
Deputy Defense Minister Asef Shawkat
In the mid-90s, he married former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad’s daughter, Bushra, and began building a close relationship with Bushra’s sister, Bashar al-Assad.
“After the 11 September 2001 attacks, Shawkat was one of the president’s main liaisons to intelligence agencies in the U.S. and Europe and helped set up a U.S. intelligence operation in Syria, which was later shut down,” the BBC reported.
The U.S. and European Union imposed sanctions on Shawkat and other Syrian officials in 2011, accusing them of playing a key role in suppressing demonstrations, according to the BBC.
His death was considered a major blow to Assad’s inner circle. Assad has relied on Shawkat to strengthen the regime and some suggested Shawkat was the strong-man behind the scenes, according to the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia think tank.
The deaths led some experts to speculate that the bombing might be a gamechanger in the 16-month Syrian uprising.
“The beginning of the end? The demise of Rajha and Shawkat represents a partial decapitation of the Assad’s regime. Assad’s house is crumbling,” Hisham Melhem, the bureau chief of the Al Arabiya News Channel in a Tweet.
The bombing may also lead to an increase in defections among Syrian government troops, which have also been rising as the conflict has progressed.
“Being reliably told that soldiers deserting in Midan. Watch out for big number of defections in Damascus area and rest of country,”Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, wrote on Twitter.
Here is a video about the attack: