BEIRUT — Syria's wounded interior minister rushed home from a Beirut hospital on Wednesday for fear he would be arrested after some Lebanese called to put him on trial for his role in a 1986 crackdown by Syrian troops in Lebanon.
In another blow to President Bashar Assad, his commander of military police defected.
The defector, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, is one of the most senior members of Assad's inner circle to join the opposition during the 21-month-old uprising against authoritarian rule. He appeared in a video aired on Al-Arabiya TV late Tuesday saying the army has been turned into a gang to kill and destroy.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar, wounded in a bombing of his ministry in Damascus, left a Beirut hospital before his treatment was finished and flew home to Damascus on a private jet, officials at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport said.
Al-Shaar was wounded on Dec. 12 when a suicide bomber exploded his vehicle outside the Interior Ministry, killing five and wounding many. He was brought to the hospital in neighboring Lebanon a week ago.
A top Lebanese security official told The Associated Press that al-Shaar was rushed out of Lebanon after authorities there received information that international arrest warrants could be issued against him because of his role in the crackdown against protesters in Syria.
Over the past week, some Lebanese officials and individuals have called for al-Shaar's arrest for his role in a 1986 crackdown in the northern city of Tripoli.
In the 1980s, al-Shaar was a top intelligence official in northern Lebanon when Syrian troops stormed Tripoli and crushed the Islamic Unification Movement — a Sunni Muslim group that then supported former Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat. Hundreds of people were killed in the battles and since then, many in northern Lebanon have referred to al-Shaar as the butcher of Tripoli.
The Lebanese security official said Lebanese citizens had also begun taking steps to sue al-Shaar for his role during Syria's military domination of Lebanon for decades.
Al-Shaar and other Syrian officials are also on a list of people subjected to European Union sanctions for violence against anti-regime protesters in Syria.