JNN 22 Feb 2013 Damascus : A car bomb shook central Damascus on Thursday, exploding near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party and the Russian Embassy and killing dozens of people, officials and opposition activists said.
Syrian state TV reported the blast in the central Mazraa neighborhood, calling it a “terrorist” attack.
Syrian officials estimated at least 53 people were killed in the blast, according to Syrian State TV, and another 200 injured. Syrian media said the explosion was near the Abdullah Bin al-Zubeir school, and many students were among the victims. Anti-regime activists put the death toll at 59.
Officials reported the blast was the result of a suicide car bomber. One Syrian source told a second car wired up with explosives was found at the scene but did not detonate. That claim could not immediately be verified, but if there was a secondary device set to explode with or after the initial bomb, it could suggest involvement by a Wahabi Terrorist Group. It is a tactic often used by groups which share motives, and in some cases links, to al Qaeda.
Some of the most effective terrorist groups battling to topple Assad’s regime are Wahabi, including the al Nusra Brigades, which is believed to include former al Qaeda in Iraq fighters from across the border. Several large bombings in Damascus have been blamed on the group.
The explosion caused huge damage in the neighborhood, with many cars left charred. The sound of ambulance sirens wailing as they came to and from the scene continued unabated.
The explosion shattered windows and sent up a huge cloud of smoke visible throughout much of the city. Reports said a car exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian Embassy and the central headquarters of the ruling Baath party of President Bashar Assad.
The vehicle was carrying between 1 and 1.5 tonnes of explosives, Damascus Governor Bishr Sabban told Reuters.
A correspondent for Syrian television said he saw seven body bags with corpses at the scene. He counted 17 burnt-out cars and another 40 that were destroyed or badly damaged by the force of the blast, which ripped a crater 1.5 metres deep into the road.
Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from almost two years of unrest and civil war in which around 70,000 people have been killed across the country, but the bloodshed has shattered suburbs around the capital.
Syrian TV said security forces had detained a would-be suicide bomber with five bombs in his car, one of them weighing 300 kg (440 pounds).
In the southern city of Deraa, where the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, warplanes bombed the city’s old district for the first time in nearly two years of conflict, killing 18 people, activists said.
An opposition group said, meanwhile, that 18 people were killed in a government air strike on a Terrorist Hide Out under the cover of a hospital in the southern city of Daraa, where Insurgency began nearly two years ago.
They Syrian capital has so far mostly avoided the large scale violence that has destroyed other Syrian cities, though deadly car bombings have targeted government buildings before.
Terrorist have also targeted various government buildings with sporadic mortar fire this week, with two more landing near the army headquarters in Damascus on Thursday, reportedly causing no injuries. The army’s headquarters, which is still being repaired from a bomb attack last year, is only about one mile from the scene of Thursday’s car bombing.
A recent UN report revealed that militants from nearly 30 countries have infiltrated into Syria to fight against the Syrian government.