Twin bomb attacks in Syria kill at least 40

Sat, Dec 24, 2011, 00:00

TWO VEHICLES laden with bombs have exploded within moments of each other outside two state security offices in the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing at least 40 people and wounding 150.

The mangled bodies of both military officers and civilians lay amid the devastation.

A military officer said the bomb at the military intelligence headquarters in the Kafr Sousa district weighed more than 300kg and killed 15 people, including a retired brigadier general.

Syrian television reported that a suspect “linked” to the attacks had been captured and said initial investigations indicated that the operation had been carried out by al-Qaeda rather than the self-styled Free Syrian Army militia.

The militia has been formed by army deserters to mount attacks against regime targets. Riad al-Assad, commander of the militia, condemned the attack.

The bombings seem to carry the hallmark of al-Qaeda, which has used suicide bombers extensively in neighbouring Iraq. Syrian army defectors, in contrast, have machine-gunned and rocketed air force and army installations.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Beirut had warned Damascus on Wednesday that al-Qaeda operatives had infiltrated Syria across the Lebanese frontier. The government has consistently claimed it is fighting “armed gangs” and “terrorists” supported from abroad.

The erosion of security because of the unrest in Syria may have given Sunni al-Qaeda the opportunity to carry out such attacks. The radical group abhors the secular Syrian Baathist regime headed by Bashar al-Assad, a member of the heterodox Alawite Shia sect.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal al-Mikdad visited the site of the blasts along with Samir Seif al- Yasal, head of the advance party of the Arab League’s monitoring team. “What we are seeing today is regretful; the important thing is for things to calm down,” Mr Yasal said.

Omar al-Khani of the Damascus-based opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission argued that the incident had been staged to impress the Arab League’s team, which arrived on Thursday to begin implementing its plan to end the violence in Syria.

Activist Omar Idlibi said the bombings were “very mysterious because they happened in heavily guarded areas that are difficult to be penetrated by car”.

In his view, the government staged the explosions to discourage the league team from travelling around Syria and to prove to the mission that “Syria is being subjected to terrorism by members of al-Qaeda”.

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri said the bombings were “engineered” by the regime, which he claimed had assassinated his father in 2005. He later withdrew the allegation.

The monitoring mission is set to oversee implementation of the Arab League peace plan accepted by Syria on November 2nd.

The plan calls for an end to violence by all parties, the withdrawal of troops from urban areas and the release of prisoners before the initiation of dialogue between the government and opposition.

The dozen-strong advance team consists of security, legal and administrative personnel who will prepare for the arrival tomorrow of 30 to 50 monitors. Another 100 are expected by the end of the year. The overall number is expected to swell to 500.

Observer Wissam Tarif, a human rights activist with the Avaaz organisation, said he feared the authorities would attempt to waste the mission’s time and deny it access to key sites.

Avaaz estimates that 6,200 civilians have died in the crackdown.

The government says more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed in the past nine months of unrest, while the UN estimates that 5,000 civilian protesters have been killed.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 12 people had been killed in protests yesterday.