Blasts in the center of Damascus appear to have been part of a coordinated attack on Shiite Muslims. No one has yet claimed responsibility, but Sunni extremists have carried out similar attacks in the past.
At least 40 people are reported dead and more than 100 injured from a pair of bomb blasts in the heart of Damascus, according to the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
In what is being described as one of the bloodiest attacks on the Syrian capital, the bombs exploded Saturday morning near a cemetery in the Bab Masala section of the capital, according to SANA, Syria’s state-run news agency.
A roadside bomb detonated as a bus passed and a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Bab al-Saghir cemetery, which houses several Shiite mausoleums that draw pilgrims from around the world, according to the SOHR.
A Lebanon-based TV station, al-Mayadeen, reported the bombings had targeted buses transporting pilgrims to the cemetery. Those pilgrims, it now appears, were all Iraqis, according to Iraq’s foreign ministry.
“Preliminary statistics indicate the fall of around 40 Iraqi martyrs and 120 wounded,” ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said in a statement, terming it a “criminal terrorist operation.”
A short SANA report said “two terrorist bombs” near the Bab al-Saghir cemetery killed “a number of martyrs” and injured others. The cemetery is located near one of the seven gates of the Old City of Damascus.
Targets of attack
Shiite shrines are a frequent target of attack for Sunni extremists belonging to al-Qaeda and the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group, not only in Syria but also in neighboring Iraq.
The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum to the south of the capital is Syria’s most visited Shiite pilgrimage site. It has been hit by several deadly bombings during Syria’s six-year civil war.
In January, a pair of suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers.
That attack was claimed by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, which said that it had targeted Russian military advisers working with the Syrian army.
Fateh al-Sham’s northwestern stronghold has been bombed repeatedly this year, not only by Syrian armed forces and their Russian ally but also by US-backed forces battling IS in both Syria and Iraq.
But attacks like the one today are rare in Damascus, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
bik/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)