Twin blasts by ISIS suicide bombers kill dozens near holy shrines in Damascus
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Twin blasts Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 40 people, most of them Iraqis, according to Syrian and Iraqi officials.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have carried out similar attacks before against Shiite shrines in the Syrian capital and elsewhere. Extremist Sunni groups, such as ISIS, view Shiites as apostates and consider shrines a form of idolatry.
Syrian State TV aired footage from the scene showing blood-soaked streets and several damaged buses in a parking lot, apparently where the explosions went off near Bab al-Saghir cemetery. The cemetery is one of Damascus’ most ancient and is where several prominent religious figures are buried.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar visited the wounded in local hospitals. He said 40 were killed and 120 were wounded. He said the attacks targeted civilians, including Arab visitors, who were touring area’s shrines.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that at least 40 Iraqis were killed and 120 wounded. Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said buses carrying Iraqi pilgrims to the shrines were targeted. He said a crisis response team has been formed to expedite the identification and transport of the killed and wounded.
“The ministry calls on the international community to condemn this heinous terrorist crime that targeted civilian Iraqi visitors to the holy shrines. It also urges a firm and decisive stand against the takfiri groups responsible for them,” Jamal said in a statement. Takfiri is an Arabic derogatory term referring to extremist Sunni Muslims – such as members of ISIS – who accuse other Muslims of being infidels.
Iraqi, Iranian and other Asian Shiites often visit shrines in Syria.
There were conflicting reports about what caused the explosions. State news agency SANA said the blasts were caused by bombs placed near the cemetery and that at least 33 were killed and more than a hundred wounded.
Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV quoted Syrian officials saying twin suicide attacks killed 40. The military media arm of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s militant group close to Damascus, said two suicide bombers blew themselves up 15 minutes apart near the shrines, leading to the large number of casualties. Arab TV Al-Mayadeen, airing the conflicting reports, also said at least 40 were killed. The area was sealed after the explosions.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group with activists on the ground, said at least 46 were killed in the twin explosions. The group said the first blast came after a suicide bomber blew himself up among the pilgrims near the shrines. It was not clear what caused the second explosion, the group said, adding that the death toll is likely higher because dozens were wounded.
Mohammed Haytham al-Hosseini, head of the National Hospital in Damascus, told pro-government Sama TV that 41 killed arrived to his facility. He said at least three wounded were in critical condition.
A similar attack in Damascus last year targeted one of the most revered Shiite shrines and was claimed by ISIS.
Bab al-Saghir is one of the seven gates of the old city of Damascus and houses a cemetery where a number of early Islam religious figures, including family members of Prophet Muhammad and figures revered by Shiites, are buried.
Source: /CBS News