Beirut – In one of the deadliest attacks since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, two blasts rocked the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing dozens of Iraqi Shiite pilgrims and injuring many others.
The two attacks, that took place at a bus station in Bab al-Saghir cemetery, were only 15 minutes apart with casualties reaching 46 dead and 120 injured.
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, media arm of Hezbollah, quoted Syrian officials saying two suicide bombers blew themselves up 15 minutes apart near the shrines, leading to the large number of casualties.
Hezbollah condemned the attacks, saying they stem from a “Takfiri ideology that uses religion as a cover to stab religion and believers everywhere.”
Later, State TV said that security forces were able to defuse a bomb set on a motorcycle near Bab al-Sahgir.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar toured the site of the explosions and said that the attacks targeted civilians, including Arab visitors, who were touring area’s shrines. He then visited the wounded in local hospitals.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that at least 40 Iraqis were killed and 120 wounded.
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.
Syrian State TV aired footage from the scene showing blood-soaked streets and several damaged buses in a parking lot in Bab al-Saghir. The footage also showed two badly damaged buses with their windows blown out and the area was splattered with blood and shoes were scattered on the ground.
AFP reporter said that he saw puddles of blood in the area, while a resident reported that the first blast occured, and was followed by the second after people had gathered to help.
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.
Syrians still burry their dead in the cemetery where the graves are considered to have the highest rate of $10,000 each. Families usually inherit the locations.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks, but sources at the opposition said that Fateh al-Sham Front could be responsible for that.
The sources pointed out that Fateh al-Sham Front’s leader Abo Mohammed al-Jolani had promised increased number of attacks after the one they executed in Homs.
In February, a suicide attack on a security center in Homs, killed dozens of soldiers including the city’s head of security Lieutenant Hasan Daaboul.
In January also, a pair of suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers.
Both attacks were claimed by Fateh al-Sham Front.
In February 2016, ISIS claimed responsibility for bomb attacks near the Sayeda Zeinab shrine which killed 134 and injured over 90 civilians. The area is a destination for pilgrims, mainly Shiites, for the shrines and religious monuments it includes.
The Foreign Ministry, in two letters to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President of the Security Council over the blasts, said armed groups attacked “civilian buses with highly explosive devices” in Damascus causing huge fatalities.
“This cowardly terrorist attack” took place simultaneously with armed groups’ continuous attacks by rockets and mortar shells of Damascus neighborhoods,” added the letter.