Hunt for Assad is on amid claims of wife Asma's exit to Russia

President allays injury suspicions with TV appearance to swear in Defence Minister

Rumours about the location of the royal couple were rife yesterday with unverified reports claiming that President Bashar al-Assad had fled to safety in the coastal province of Latakia while his glamorous British-born wife left for Russia.

Although the president made a brief appearance on state television yesterday to swear in his new Defence Minister, Fahad Jassim al-Freij, whose predecessor was killed in the Damascus blast that took out several top regime officials, state television did not say where or when the footage was filmed.

The president's first public appearance since the attack will, however, allay suspicions that the president was himself injured.

Opposition sources and a Western diplomat told Reuters that the president was directing the official response to the assassinations from Latakia, the heartland for the Alawite sect to which the ruling family belongs. The Assad clan hails from the provincial town of Qardaha which perches on a hill above Latakia city.

Assad's mother Anisa Makhlouf and his newly widowed sister Bushra travelled with the body of his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat to Latakia last night on a private jet, according to a Free Syrian Army source who said the group had "insiders" informing them of the ruling family's movements.

The same source said that Assad had been injured – but in an attack earlier on Wednesday and not the blast at the national security centre.

"The president was in Al Shaab Palace in Damascus and there was a warning at 3.30am and they decided to move him," the source said. "As they moved, the Free Syrian Army was striking the area with mortars and one hit the cars. He only had small injuries."

The Syrian ambassador to Moscow, Riyad Haddad, told Russian news agency Interfax that reports that the First Lady Asma al-Assad, had fled there were "completely false".

With information so murky, some speculated that the blast did not happen at all and instead was part of an elaborate regime hoax to cover up the fact that senior security officials were poisoned.

Salman Shaikh, a Syria analyst at the Brookings Doha centre, said he was "increasingly suspicious" about the events. "Assef Shawkat may well have been poisoned along with other members of security cell on 19 May in operation claimed by Kataba Sahaba," he said on social networking site Twitter. "It may well have been compelled to reveal the deaths to justify the massive killing operation it has launched to clean up Damascus."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Exciting career prospect for ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Media Sales - OTE up to £30,000

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique & exciting opp...

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935