"Armed criminal gangs who block roads and spread fear in the area, came upon General Abdo Khodr Al-Tellawi, his two children and his nephew, and killed them in cold blood," the official news agency SANA reported. The victims'' bodies were "mutilated", SANA added.
"Two other officers "fell as martyrs to armed criminal gang's bullets in Homs", the agency said.
Since the beginning of the protest movement more than a month ago, the authorities have repeatedly blamed violence on "armed gangs." Early today, security forces opened fire on a massive sit-in demonstration in the Homs, sending thousands of protesters scattering, rights activists said.
"The sit-in was dispersed with force. There was heavy gunfire," an activist reached by telephone in Damascus told AFP, without being able to give details of possible casualties.
The interior ministry issued a warning late yesterday that it would suppress an "armed revolt" undermining security in the country.
It accused "armed Salafist groups" of killing soldiers, policemen and civilians, and of attacking public and private property, and warned that "their terrorist activities will not be tolerated."