Assad's chemical war expert dies in auto blast

Syrian scientist killing is a message to Assad and Tehran

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said the attack took place on Saturday.

Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre in Masyaf, near Hama, which western governments say was a covert government installation. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as al-Qaeda's Syrian branch.

An insurgent group calling itself the Abu Amara Brigades claimed responsibility for the operation.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview in June with Russia's state-controlled NTV television channel that his government got rid of all its chemical weapons in 2013 and that allegations of their use were a pretext for invasion by other countries.

The SOHR's head, Rami Abdul Rahman, said experts from Iran, a Syrian government ally, were present at the Masyaf centre, which was developing short-range surface-to-surface missiles.

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The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a United Nations watchdog, determined that the Syrian government used sarin in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April a year ago that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.

Al-Watan reported Sunday morning that "according to assessment Israel was involved in the assassination, as it had carried out several air strikes on the Center for Scientific Research, the last one on July 22".

An Israeli government official declined to comment on reports of Asber's death when asked by the Reuters news agency.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011.

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