Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha attends a Syrian air defence live ammunitions exercise in an undisclosed location in this undated file handout distributed on July 9, 2012. Daoud Rajha was killed by a bomb which exploded during a meeting of ministers and security officials at a national security building in Damascus on July 18, 2012, state television said.
Credit: SANA

It's still not clear what happened at Syria's National Security headquarters today, but state media say that two senior government officials have been killed in a suicide bomb attack: Daoud Rajha, Defense Minister, and his deputy, Assef Shawkat.

If that's true, it makes Rajha the highest-ranking casualty of the Syrian crisis so far. Here's what we know about him.

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According to Syria's state news agency, SANA, Rajha wasn't just defense minister, he was also deputy commander-in-chief of the army and armed forces, deputy prime minister, and a general.

The 65-year-old Damascene is described as having a long and decorated military career, and served as the army's chief of staff before his appointment to the Defense Ministry in August 2011.

According to the US Treasury, which imposed sanctions on him in March this year, he was apparently appointed for his loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. He was one of three ministers to keep their posts in last month's cabinet reshuffle, Reuters reported at the time. 

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Rajiha was an exception in other ways, too. He was reportedly a Greek Orthodox Christian, making him a rarity in Assad's mainly Alawite government.

According to the New York Times, as a high-profile minority figure, Rajha served the valuable public relations purpose of putting "a face of pluralism on the military and security services dominated by the same Alawite sect the president belongs to."

Rajha was no token appointment, however. A recent Reuters analysis described him as a member of the elite "military crisis unit" overseen by Assad himself and responsible for the regime's day-to-day handling of the crisis.

Rajha is accused of playing a direct role in the government's crackdown on its opponents. The EU has had him on its list of designated officials since May 2011, citing him as "responsible for the military involvement in the crackdown on peaceful protesters."

Rajha has been replaced as defense minister by General Fahad Jassim al-Freij, who succeeded him last year as the army's chief of staff.

In-depth from GlobalPost: Inside Syria

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