DAMASCUS, Syria, (AP) – The attack that killed 17 people in Damascus this weekend was carried out by a suicide bomber who belonged to a Muslim extremist group, Syria’s state-run media said Monday.
The official news agency SANA and state television said preliminary findings show that the GMC Suburban used in Saturday’s bombing had crossed into Syria from a neighboring Arab country the previous day.
The reports did not name the neighboring country, but Syria has borders with three Arab nations — Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan — as well as Turkey and Israel.
The 440 pound (200 kilogram) car bomb near a Syrian security complex on the southern outskirts of the capital was the biggest and deadliest in the tightly controlled country since the 1980s, when the government fought an uprising by Muslim militants.
Authorities are conducting DNA tests to identify the attacker and several people have been detained in connection with the blast, according to SANA. The investigation and hunt for suspects continues, it said, without giving details.
SANA said the group, which it did not name, follows a “takfiri” ideology of Islam that urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel.
The report came a week after Syria massed thousands of troops on its borders with neighboring Lebanon.
It also follows a warning by President Bashar Assad that “extremist forces” were operating in northern Lebanon and looking to destabilize Syria. He apparently was referring to the Sunni militants who have clashed for months with pro-Syrian gunmen in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
The Syrian government has been battling Muslim militants it blames for recent attacks. The militants often denounce Assad’s regime for its secularism and have at times called for its overthrow.
In September 2006, Islamic militants tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in an unusually bold attack in which three assailants and a Syrian guard were killed. Three months earlier, a battle between Syrian security forces and militants near the Defense Ministry left four militants and a police officer dead.
Officials blamed those attacks on Jund al-Sham, or Soldiers of Syria — an al-Qaeda-linked group.