DAMASCUS, Syria, (AP) – 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 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,” 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.
An intelligence building is also 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.
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.
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.
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.