Car Bomb Kills 17, Wounds 14 in Syrian Capital

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The New York Sun

DAMASCUS, Syria — A car packed with explosives detonated on a crowded residential street Saturday, killing 17 people and wounding more than a dozen others, state-run television reported.

The car was packed with 440 pounds of explosives when it blew up on Mahlak Street, shattering apartment building and car windows and twisting the roof of one car, according to footage aired on Syrian TV.

Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid called the bombing a “terrorist act” and said all of the victims were civilians. He declined to say who was behind the blast.

“We cannot accuse any party. There are ongoing investigations that will lead us to those who carried it out,” Mr. Abdul-Majid told state TV.

The 8:45 a.m. explosion occurred in a southern neighborhood of the capital near the junction to the city’s international airport, at an intersection leading to Saydah Zeinab, a holy shrine for Shiite Muslims that is frequently visited by Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims about five miles away.

Such bombings are rare in Syria, a tightly controlled country where the regime of President Bashar Assad uses heavy-handed tactics to crack down against dissent and instability.

But over the last year, the country has witnessed two major assassinations. Several explosions blamed on Sunni Muslim militants opposed to Syria’s secular government have also taken place over the last few years.

Saturday’s bombing was by far the largest and tested weaknesses of the government’s traditionally tight security grip.

Al-Manar, a satellite TV station allied with Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah, reported that witnesses said more than 14 people were injured including children.

An intelligence building is located in the area, but cars are not normally allowed to park nearby and it was not clear how close the bombing was to the building.

The last major explosion to strike Damascus was in February when a car bomb killed Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s most wanted and elusive terrorists. The former Hezbollah security chief was suspected of masterminding attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon and brutal kidnappings of Westerners.

Hezbollah and its top ally, Iran, blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel denied any involvement.

Syria has long been on Washington’s list of states supporting terrorism, and the Bush administration has sought to isolate the Assad regime for its support of Hezbollah guerrillas and radical Palestinian groups. Its attempts intensified after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, which many in Lebanon blame on Syria. Damascus has denied involvement.

Syria also has long been accused of allowing Muslim militants to use its territory to cross into Iraq, where they take part in attacks against American and Iraqi forces.

The country has seen violence by Islamic extremists in recent years, with security forces clashing with Al Qaeda-inspired militant groups on several occasions. In September 2006, Islamic militants tried to storm the American Embassy in Damascus in an unusually brazen attack in which three assailants and a Syrian guard were killed.

Most of those attacks were linked to Jund al-Sham, an Al Qaeda offshoot that was established in Afghanistan. But Syrian experts say Al Qaeda has not made a concerted effort to act in Syria, not because of the strength of its security services, but because of Damascus’s traditionally anti-Western stance.

Recently, however, Syria has been trying to change its image and emerge from international isolation, agreeing to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon and pursuing indirect peace talks with Israel.

The New York Sun

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