In the wake of a bombing attack that killed at least three senior Syrian officials, the silence of President Bashar Assad spurred furious speculation over his whereabouts and whether the embattled Syrian leader had himself been wounded in the bombing.
The Wednesday blast struck a meeting of Cabinet and security officials, killing top officials including the defense minister and his deputy, a brother-in-law of Assad.
That the rebels could target and kill such high-ranking officials is likely to have stunned Assad, as it did outside observers. In an interview with The Times, a senior Obama administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly said it was “extraordinary” that the Free Syrian Army had gotten to Assad’s brother-in-law, calling him “one of the most powerful hard-line officials in the country.”
“If I’m some senior regime official and I’m thinking about my future, this would weigh on me,” the Obama administration official said.
The fact that Assad made no public statement about such a devastating attack quickly fueled rumors that the president himself had been injured or killed. It was also unclear where his wife and children were after the bombing.
One Syrian opposition activist claimed in an interview with Al Arabiya television network that the presidential jet had left the Damascus airport Wednesday for Latakia, echoing a flurry of online claims by activists that Assad had been injured and sent to the Mediterranean port city.
However, Syrian state media reported that Assad had issued two decrees after the Wednesday attack, appointing Gen. Fahd Jassem Freij as defense minister and deputy commander-in-chief of the army.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles, Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ken Dilanian in Washington