BEIRUT (Reuters) – The head of a Syrian research facility that Western countries say was part of a chemical weapons programme was killed when his car was blown up, the pro-Syrian government newspaper al-Watan said on Sunday.
Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Centre in Masyaf, near the city of Hama, which Western governments say was a covert Syrian government installation.
“(Asber) died after an explosion targeted his car in the Hama countryside,” al-Watan said in an online report.
The attack on Asber was claimed by a Syrian rebel group affiliated to Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel group. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as al Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
The Abu Amara Brigades released a statement on their Telegram online channel that said they “planted explosive devices” which detonated and killed Asber.
The explosion occurred on Saturday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said.
The Masyaf facility has previously been hit by what the Syrian government said were Israeli strikes in July and last year in September.
In April, missile strikes by the United States, Britain and France destroyed a Syrian Scientific Research Centre facility in Damascus, in response to a suspected poison gas attack.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia, has denied using – or possessing – chemical weapons.
An Israeli government official declined to comment on reports of Asber’s death when asked by Reuters.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Larry King.)