Nusra Front chief arrested in Damascus
Rubble and debris litter the street following an explosion in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, early on August 7, 2013. (AFP)
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A Nusra Front chief who is suspected of masterminding the assassination of prominent Sheikh Mohammed Said al-Buti has been arrested in the Syrian capital, a security source said Tuesday.
“Nusra Front’s emir for the Damascus region and two of his deputies were arrested two months ago,” the Damascus-based source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“They were behind the March 22 assassination of Buti and 41 others in a mosque in the capital,” the source said.
The sheikh was killed in March when a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in the upmarket Mezzeh district of Damascus, the state news agency reported.
Buti’s assassination removed one of the few remaining pillars of support for Syrian President Bashar Assad among Sunnis – the majority sect that has risen up against him.
Prime Minister Wael Halqi Monday told Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen that “the group who killed Buti and tried to kill me has been arrested.”
“The group’s confessions will be made public soon,” Halqi added. He did not mention if those arrested were affiliated with the Nusra Front.
Halqi was the target of an assassination attempt in April. He was unwounded in the attack, but two of his bodyguards and one of the drivers in his convoy were killed.
As evidence that the prime minister was unhurt at the time, the state-run Al-Ikhbariya station broadcast images of Halqi attending a regular weekly meeting with an economic committee just after the bombing. The station broadcast video of the prime minister sitting around a table in a room with several other officials.
But in the recorded comments after the meeting, Halqi made no reference to the bombing, nor was he asked about it by reporters, leaving doubt as to whether the video was shot before or after the bombing.
The source told AFP that the three Islamists also allegedly planned the February suicide car-bomb attack near the ruling Baath Party headquarters that killed 59 people.
The source also said the men were behind an attack which wounded Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar in December 2012 when two explosives and a car bomb exploded in front of his ministry.
Five people were killed and 23 others wounded in that attack.