Montgomery County police are investigating the origin of several handguns found in the possession of two residents of a mansion in Potomac owned by a top Syrian military official during a fire that heavily damaged the mansion.

The guns were inside briefcases carried by a man and a woman who were leaving the burning building at 9608 Halter Ct. when firemen arrived, and were discovered when police stopped the pair and looked inside the bags, according to fire officials.

County police spokesman Cpl. Phillip B. Caswell would not give further details, saying that "until the investigation is completed, we can't discuss it."

Firefighters responding to the fire on Sept. 24 found smoke pouring from a basement storage room where about 20 folding cots were stored, according to Lt. Raymond Mullhall, public relations officer of the county fire department.

Arson was not suspected in the blaze, which caused an estimated $400,000 damage to the $1.1 million building. The house, a 13,000-square-foot Georgian colonial with seven bathrooms, tennis courts, and a three-story marbled foyer, was purchased last August by Lt. Col. Rifaat Assad, the security chief of Syria and brother of Syrian President Hafez Assad.

When the house was bought, there was some speculation that Rifaat Assad was on a diplomatic mission for his country in the United States. But a spokesman for Assad said he had come to the U.S. on strictly a private visit to have a medical checkup and to enroll his two sons in American University.