At least 40 people were killed, the majority of them Shi’ite pilgrims, in twin bombings in the Old City of Damascus on Saturday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanon-based TV station, said the bombings targeted buses transporting pilgrims to the Bab al-Saghir cemetery near one of the seven gates of the Old City of Damascus.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar visited the injured in local hospitals. He said 40 were killed and 120 were injured. He said the attacks targeted civilians, including Arab visitors, who were frequenting the shrines in the area. He didn’t elaborate, but Iraqi Shi’ites often visit shrines in Syria. Iranians and other Shi’ites from Asia are often also among the pilgrims to the area.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry in Baghdad later announced that at least 40 Iraqis pilgrims were killed and 120 wounded in the bombings.
“There are also dozens of people wounded, some of them in a serious condition,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The director general of the capital’s Al-Mujtahed hospital told AFP earlier there were at least 28 people dead and 45 wounded.
The SANA state news agency reported that “two bombs planted by terrorists exploded near the Bab al-Saghir cemetery in Bab Musalla, causing dead and wounded.”
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 Shi’ites, are buried.
Shi’ite shrines are a frequent target of attack for Sunni extremists of al-Qaeda and the ISIS, not only in Syria but also in neighboring Iraq.
The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum to the south of Damascus, Syria’s most visited Shi’ite pilgrimage site, has been hit by several deadly bombings during the six-year-old civil war.
Twin suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers.
Bomb attacks are rare in Damascus, a stronghold of the regime of Bashar Assad.
The Syrian capital is sometimes the target of shelling by rebel groups who hold areas on the outskirts.