A pair of suicide bombers killed at least 55 people and wounded 372 more in a coordinated attack on a military intelligence headquarters in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
One suicide bomber detonated his car packed with explosives outside of the Palestine Branch Military Intelligence headquarters at 8:00 a.m. local time, just as employees were arriving, Reuters reported. A second suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car as emergency personnel were responding to the attack and tending to the wounded.
The blasts were so powerful that the outer facade of the military intelligence headquarters and other buildings in the area collapsed, according to Al Jazeera.
There have been no claims of responsibility for the attack, but it was likely carried out by the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, a jihadist group that has claimed credit for three other suicide attacks in Syria. The Al Nusrah Front announced its formation on Jan. 23, in a video statement that was released on YouTube.
Another jihadist group, the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, announced its formation in February, and said it would conduct suicide operations against the Syrian government. The Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade has yet to claim credit for any suicide attacks in Syria.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has recently urged Muslims inside and outside of Syria to take up arms against the Syrian government. In a statement issued on Feb. 11 and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri said: “I appeal to every Muslim and every free, honorable one in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, to rise to help his brothers in Syria with all what he can, with his life, money, wonders, opinion, and information.” Telling Syrians not to trust Turkey, the Arab League, or the West, he exhorted the “lions of the Levant” to “[d]evelop the intention of jihad in the Cause of Allah to establish a state that defends the Muslim countries and seeks to liberate the Golan and continue its jihad until it raises the banners of victory above the usurped hills of Jerusalem.”
Al Qaeda in Iraq already has a strong presence in Syria [see LWJ report, Eastern Syria becoming a new al Qaeda haven]. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a regional al Qaeda affiliate, also is known to operate in Syria. Two of its senior leaders, Saudi citizens Saleh al Qarawi and Suleiman Hamad Al Hablain, have been added to the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists since November 2011. The terror group has denied any involvement in the Dec. 23 suicide attack.
In the past, the Syrian resistance has denied that anti-government groups have carried out suicide attacks in Syria, and instead has blamed the bombings on the Syrian security services. However, the Free Syrian army resistance force recently bombed a carwash that allegedly catered to Assad’s forces; three people were killed in the blast, and 21 more were wounded.
President Bashir al Assad’s regime has been battling the Free Syrian Army in several of the country’s major cities. Assad’s security forces have ruthlessly attempted to suppress the rebellion. Syrian government forces have killed nearly 10,000 Syrians over the past year, indiscriminately shelling civilian areas and using armored vehicles and snipers to fire on civilians.