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Syrian troops raid central and northern villages in manhunt for alleged defector
BEIRUT (AP) ' Government soldiers raided homes and made sweeping arrests Monday in a manhunt for a Syrian attorney general who defected from President Bashar Assad's regime to protest the bloody government crackdown on dissent, activists said.
Soldiers demanding information about Adnan Bakkour fanned out in villages near the Turkish border and in central Syria, said Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the activist network The Local Coordination Committees.
The fate of Bakkour, who served as attorney general for central Hama province, remained murky. Bakkour appeared in two videos last week declaring his resignation, but authorities said "terrorists" had kidnapped him and forced him to make the recording.
Bakkour denied the government claim in one of the videos.
His defection appeared to be the highest-level so far.
In an audio message posted online over the past day, a man who identified himself as Bakkour said that security forces and pro-regime thugs had attacked his convoy Friday in the Maaret Hirmeh area in Idlib province, killing four people accompanying him and wounding three others.
"I myself was lightly wounded because of shrapnel," he said in the audio recording, adding he was able to escape with the help of other dissidents.
Bakkour's case highlights the difficulty in confirming facts out of Syria, which has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media. Activist accounts and amateur videos posted online are vital sources of information, but it is nearly impossible to independently verify the reports.
The regime blames the unrest on thugs and armed gangs and claims security forces are the real victims.
Idilbi, the LCC spokesman, confirmed the attack in Maaret Hirmeh Friday, saying a high-ranking leader of the protest movement from the rebellious city of Hama died in the attack on Bakkour.
He said Bakkour was now "safely out of the country" but that troops were still conducting raids and arrests in the Hama countryside and Idlib province in search for him.
He declined to say where Bakkour was, or how he knew he was now out of Syria.
Also Monday, Idilbi said there were unconfirmed reports of gunfire heard from Mazzeh military airport in Damascus, where many detainees were being held. Idilbi said there were reports the gunfire was due to clashes between the military and soldiers who have defected, but said those could not immediately confirmed.
Elsewhere, troops stormed the flashpoint Khaldieh district in central Homs province Monday, killing two people, according to the LCC and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Another man was killed in the western town of Talkalakh during security operations there, they said.