BEIRUT (AP) — At least four nuclear scientists and electric engineers were killed near Damascus after gunmen opened fire on their bus, a pro-government Syrian newspaper and activists said on Monday. There was no fighting around where the men were killed, suggesting they were the target of the attack, activists said.
The pro-government Syrian newspaper Al-Watan said the men were heading to the Scientific Research Center near the Syrian capital when they were attacked on Sunday. The newspaper said the four were Syrian nationals, and suggested the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front was behind the attack.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five nuclear engineers were killed, and that one of them was an Iranian national. The Britain-based Observatory closely monitors Syria’s fighting through a network of activists on the ground.
Abdurrahman said there was no fighting around where the men were killed, near a bridge on a highway leading out of Damascus. “There were no clashes there at all. It was an operation to assassinate them,” said Abdurrahman.
Syrian facilities suspected of being used for military and nuclear research have been targeted in the past.
An Israeli airstrike struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus last May. The nature of the research center was unclear. In January, Syrian officials accused Israel of striking another scientific research center northwest of Damascus.
In 2007, Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor — an attack confirmed by U.S. officials. Israel has never commented on the incident.
Syrian, Iranian and Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.