In a new indication of the escalating hostility between the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad and Saudi Arabia, pro-Assad Syrian websites claimed that Syria has assassinated Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s flamboyant former ambassador to the United States, who was appointed to head his country’s intelligence services earlier this month.
The reports, which cited unofficial sources and for which there was no confirmation, claimed that Bandar was killed because it was he, with American support, who organized the July 18 bombing in central Damascus that killed several of Assad’s most senior ministers and aides.
One analyst said privately that, whatever the truth of the claim, it underlined the profound hostility between Assad’s regime and the Saudis.
The Syrian reports, quickly picked up elsewhere Monday, including on Israel’s Mako Hebrew news site, asserted that Bandar orchestrated the Damascus bombing with logistical support from the CIA. An English account of the purported Syrian revenge attack in which Bandar was allegedly killed, on the Voltaire Network’s website, noted admiringly that “It took Syria only one week to mount this spectacular reprisal operation.”
The reports claimed Bandar had been appointed his country’s spy chief on July 24 as a reward for organizing the Damascus bombing six days earlier. They said he was killed in a revenge attack on July 26. The target of a bombing, he did not die outright, the reports claimed, but subsequently succumbed to his injuries.
Credible Western reports have said Bandar was actually appointed Saudi intelligence chief on July 19, the day after the Damascus blast.
Iran’s Press TV reported a bombing at the Riyadh headquarters of Saudi intelligence on July 22, in which it was claimed that Bandar’s deputy was killed.
A Reuters profile of Bandar last week noted that the intelligence appointment represented a return to prominence for Bandar, 63, “who vanished from public view when he was recalled from Washington by King Abdullah in 2005 after notching up 22 years as the kingdom’s ambassador there.”
The same article noted that Saudi Arabia, the United States’ closest Arab ally, “is a firm supporter of the Syrian rebels now battling in Damascus” to oust Assad “and is mending fences with Washington after a disagreement over last year’s Arab uprisings.”
It quoted Jamal Khashoggi, an influential Saudi commentator, saying: ”Bandar is quite aggressive, not at all like a typical cautious Saudi diplomat. If the aim is to bring Bashar down quick and fast, he will have a free hand to do what he thinks necessary. He likes to receive an order and implement it as he sees fit.”