Senior pro-Assad Sunni cleric killed in Damascus suicide attack
The Syrian government claims that a suicide bomber killed Mohammad Said Ramadan al Bouti in yesterday's attack at a mosque in Damascus. From the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency:
A suicide terrorist on Thursday evening blew himself up while scholar Dr. Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti was giving a religious lesson at al-Iman Mosque in al-Mazraa area in Damascus.
Dr. al-Bouti was martyred along with tens of students and prayers.
A source at the Health Ministry stated Thursday that the death toll of the terrorist bombing reached 42, in addition to 84 injured who were admitted to a number of hospitals in Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely tracks the civil war, said that the death toll "has risen to 45" and that "the number is likely to increase because more than 60 civilians are severely injured."
The suicide attack has yet to be confirmed, but given the location of the attack, it was very likely carried out by a suicide bomber. No group has claimed credit for the attack at this time. The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 57 of the 68 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). So far this year, 15 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 14 of them.
Al Bouti was hated by Syria's rebels for backing President Bashir al Assad and his Alawite-dominated government since the civil war began two years ago. As a Sunni, al Bouti gave the Assad government cover. He repeatedly urged Syrians to fight against the rebels.
Some Syrians are claiming that the bombing that killed al Bouti was actually a false flag operation executed by Syrian security forces. This report from Reuters sums up that position:
Some opposition activists argued the rebels could not have been behind the attack, and called it a government plot. They said it was unlikely that rebels, many of whom are deeply religious, would target a mosque.
"The regime eliminated Buti," said Leena al-Shami, a Damascus activist speaking on Skype. "One of the last things he said is that Assad is the prince of Muslims and Syrians fight with him, as in jihad (holy war).
"I don't think Buti could have done more, his role was over. Now the regime wanted to make a martyr of him."
Some locals recalled one of Buti's more memorable sermons from early on in the revolt, in which he told President Assad he had a vision that Syria would 'receive God's wrath', but would survive.
Clearly "opposition activist" Leena al-Shami hasn't been paying much attention to what has been happening in the Muslim world over the past decade. So-called "deeply religious" jihadists from groups such as al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi, and other allied terror organizations have executed numerous suicide attacks inside mosques in Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan over the past decade. What makes al-Shami think that al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front, is incapable of doing what al Qaeda, its affiliates, and allies have done scores of times over the past decade?