Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP/GettyImages
UPDATE: A shadowy Islamist group, the Al-Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for the two suicide bombings that struck the Syrian capital this week, killing 55 people, reports the Associated Press. In a video, the group says the bombs were a response to attacks on civilians by President Bashar Assad.
The group has claimed responsibility for attacks in the past, but little is known about its origins. Intelligence officials largely agree that groups linked to al-Qaida have likely taken advantage of the instability in Syria to cement their presence. If this marks the beginning of an al-Qaida bombing campaign in Syria, it would “complicate an already intractable conflict,” writes the BBC’s Jonathan Head. “It would harden attitudes on both sides, and heighten sectarian suspicion.”
Thursday, May 12: Twin suicide blasts during Thursday's morning rush hour reportedly killed at least 55 in Damascus and injured at least 370 others, the latest bloody day in a year full of them for Syrians.
CNN reports the coordinated attack was the deadliest in the Syrian capital since uprisings in the country began 14 months ago. The blasts resulted in "massive material losses," in the words of the Syrian Interior Ministry. Rebels claim that the explosions destroyed a government intelligence building, although the Associated Press reports that only the facade of the building suffered significant damage.
No one has yet claimed responsibility yet for the attacks. As has become commonplace, the Assad regime has blamed "terrorists," the term the government uses to refer to the opposition groups. The rebels, meanwhile, offered their common refrain as well: that the Syrian government carried out the attack itself in order to undermine the resistance. Others, as the AP notes, fear that the blasts may have been the work of an al-Qaida-associated group taking advantage of the country's instability.
The Syrian state-run news agency, SANA, posted gruesome photos of the dead. They reported (warning: graphic images at link) that the the two car bombs, driven by suicide drivers, contained 1,000 kg of explosives.
The U.N. observer team in Syria currently monitoring the so-far failed cease-fire has inspected the site. A spokesman for Kofi Annan's said the U.S. envoy "is saddened by the loss of life resulting from the two blasts" and that these "abhorrent acts are unacceptable and the violence in Syria must stop."
CNN reports that at least 1,025 have been killed in Syria since a cease-fire went into effect last month. The U.N. estimates the total death toll from the uprisings in the country to be at least 9,000.