Who was Louay Al Nayef, the Syrian officer killed in a car bomb in Damascus?

Mysterious killings of regime officers have risen despite civil war tipping in favour of the government

Col Louay Al Nayef was killed in the West Mazzeh area by a bomb planted under his car. Photo: Sana
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A Syrian officer killed in a car bomb in Damascus this weekend served in electronic warfare, in an army department linked to Iran and North Korea, a relative and other sources told The National, deepening the mystery behind his assassination.

Col Louay Al Nayef was killed in West Mazzeh area on Saturday by a bomb planted under his car, loyalists to President Bashar Al Assad said on social media.

He was the latest in an increasing number of security officers assassinated mostly in Damascus in the past several years.

Motives are still unclear, but range from an Israeli campaign to eliminate Syrian operatives who liaise with Iran, which intensified since the Gaza war last October, to internal regime competition over the war economy, said a communications engineer who was in the Syrian army.

Iran has been also eliminating figures in Syria deemed as untrustworthy, he said, adding that very little is known about the colonel, beyond information in his death notice that identifies him as a member of the Okeidat tribe in Eastern Syria.

“There are precedents of obscure figures in the regime who were later found to have been crucial players,” the engineer The National.

He pointed out the example of Brig Gen Mohammed Suleiman.

Suleiman, believed to have been killed on the Syrian coast by Israeli commandos in 2008, was seen as having been the point man in Syria's military ties with Iran and North Korea. He was close to the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, but most of the ruling elite had not heard of him, until he was assassinated.

Al Nayef could have been also killed "by error, either by Israel or by Iran, or he could have been target of a tribal revenge", the engineer said.

Electronic warfare started relying on Iran and North Korea for training and equipment since the early 2000s, replacing Soviet eavesdropping and jamming systems, he said.

The division’s headquarters is in south Damascus, on the edge of the Sayda Zeinab suburb, the centre of Iranian-sponsored militias in Syria. There is also a large workshop attached to the headquarters, he said.

Pictures published by pro-government Facebook pages showed the burnt remains of a car that Al Nayef was purportedly about to ride in before the explosion. Another car next to it is pictured also completely destroyed.

Photos of Al Nayef published on Facebook after his death showed him in military uniform.

Deir Ezzor, Al Nayef's home province in eastern Syria, is divided between Russian, Iranian and US zones of influence.

Mr Al Nayef's village, Sabikhan, is situated in the Iranian zone. Al Shuwait, a branch of the Okeidat tribe that he belongs to, remained mostly loyal to the regime, unlike the rest of the tribe, which joined the 2011 revolt against the President.

Security forces violently suppressed the peaceful protests that erupted in Deir Ezzor and the rest of Syria in 2011. The revolt militarised in response to the crackdown. And by the end of the year, civil war had broken out.

A relative of Mr Al Nayaf said by phone from Damascus that before his killing, Al Nayef was transferred from electronic warfare to the division overseeing conscription, without giving exact dates of the transfer.

“It was seen as demotion,” the relative said.

Updated: May 28, 2024, 8:31 PM