Seventeen killed by bomb in Damascus
Seventeen killed by bomb in Damascus
Saturday, September 27,2008 03:27

DAMASCUS (AFP) — A car bomb exploded near a Shiite shrine in southern Damascus on Saturday killing 17 people and wounding 14 others in one of the deadliest attacks to hit Syria in a dozen years, state media said.

The car packed with 200 kilos (440 pounds) of explosives blew up near a security checkpoint on a road to Damascus international airport.

Interior Minister General Bassam Abdel Majid told the broadcaster the attack was "a terrorist act" and that all the casualties were civilians.

"A counter-terrorist unit is trying to track down the perpetrators... We can"t point the finger at any party."

The rare attack in a country known for its iron-fisted security came at 8:45 am (0545 GMT) during the morning rush-hour in the teeming neighbourhood of Sayeda Zeinab, the state-run SANA news agency said, quoting a Syrian official.

The district is popular among Shiite pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq who pray at the tomb of Zeinab, daughter of the Shiite martyr Ali and granddaughter of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

SANA has said that more than two million people visit the shrine each year.

Witnesses told state television the bomb could have claimed more victims if it had taken place a day later.

"It felt like an earthquake. The force of the explosion threw me out of bed," said one man who lives near the scene of the blast.

"Thank God this was Saturday. The catastrophe would have been bigger if the attack had taken place on Sunday when schools were open."

A boy said: "May Allah break the hands of those who did this."

State television broadcast footage showing damage to cars, a building and a bus, but journalists were prevented by security forces from approaching the scene which was cordoned off.

The precise target of the bombing was not immediately known.

"Syria is targeted, either by countries whose interests contradict those of Damascus... or other groups who have an interest in undermining Syrian security," law professor Ibrahim Darraji told AFP.

The blast was the deadliest since a spate of attacks in the 1980s blamed on Muslim Brotherhood militants.

It was the worst since February when Hezbollah commander Imad Mughnieh, linked to attacks on Western and Israeli targets in the 1980s and 1990s, was killed in a Damascus car bombing.

The Lebanese Shiite militant group blamed Israel, which denied any involvement. Syria called Mughniyeh"s murder a "terrorist" act.

Saturday"s attack also comes after Lebanon said on Monday that Syria had boosted troop numbers along the border. Damascus said the move was to combat smuggling.

In August, Syria confirmed the assassination of top army general Mohammed Sleiman, described in Arab media as having been the government"s liaison with Hezbollah.

The Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat said he was a senior officer "in charge of sensitive files and closely linked to the Syrian top brass."

On Thursday the head of the UN atomic agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, revealed that the watchdog"s probe into alleged illicit nuclear work in Syria has been delayed because the agency"s contact man in Syria had been murdered.

He did not reveal the contact"s identity.

"The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session of the International Atomic Energy Agency"s 35-member board. A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.

US President George W. Bush on Tuesday again accused Syria and its key regional ally Iran of sponsoring terrorism, saying in a farewell speech to the UN General Assembly that such violence "has no place in the modern world."

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