As­sad regime strongholds struck by deadly bomb at­tacks

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY BEN HUB­BARD AND

BEIRUT | An ex­plo­sion struck near a Syr­ian gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity build­ing in the north­ern city of Aleppo on Sun­day, while a harsh se­cu­rity crack­down pre­vented op­po­si­tion ral­lies mark­ing one year since the first na­tion­wide protests of the up­ris­ing against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

The Syr­ian state news agency called the Aleppo ex­plo­sion a “ter­ror­ist bomb­ing” and said one po­lice­man and one fe­male civil­ian were killed, and 30 were in­jured. It was the sec­ond at­tack in two days on regime strongholds.

Three sui­cide bomb­ings in Da­m­as­cus on Satur­day killed 27 peo­ple. Two of them also tar­geted gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity build­ings, and the regime ac­cused the op­po­si­tion, which it claims is made up of “ter­ror­ist” groups car­ry­ing out a for­eign con­spir­acy.

Aleppo and the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus, Syria’s two largest cities, have been struck by sev­eral sui­cide bomb­ings since De­cem­ber. Both are crit­i­cal cen­ters of sup­port for Mr. As­sad and have re­mained rel­a­tively in­su­lated from the un­rest shak­ing much of the coun­try for the past year.

No one has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for any of the week­end at­tacks.

Mo­hammed Saeed, an Aleppo res­i­dent, said a car bomb ex­ploded in the early af­ter­noon about 200 yards from the Po­lit­i­cal Se­cu­rity Direc­torate. Se­cu­rity forces started shoot­ing in the air and cor­doned off the area to pre­vent peo­ple from ap­proach­ing.

“It was a strong ex­plo­sion. It shook parts of the city,” Mr. Saeed said, cit­ing nearby res­i­dents. “White smoke was bil­low­ing from the area.”

The ex­plo­sion did not se­ri­ously dam­age the se­cu­rity build­ing, he said.

But at that time of day, the city’s cen­tral Suleimaniyeh neigh­bor­hood is usu­ally crowded with peo­ple, es­pe­cially on Sun­day, the first day of Syria’s work­week.

The neigh­bor­hood has a large Chris­tian pop­u­la­tion, Mr. Saeed said.

The string of large-scale bomb­ings near gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity build­ings in Da­m­as­cus and Aleppo has added a mys­te­ri­ous el­e­ment to the anti-gov­ern­ment re­volt. Af­ter other sim­i­lar at­tacks, U.S. of­fi­cials sug­gested al Qaeda mil­i­tants may be join­ing the fray.

A pre­vi­ously un­known Is­lamist group call­ing it­self Al-nusra Front to Pro­tect the Le­vant claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for pre­vi­ous at­tacks in a video posted on­line, say­ing it car­ried them out “to avenge the peo­ple of Homs.”

Homs is an op­po­si­tion strong­hold in cen­tral Syria that has been hard-hit in the gov­ern­ment crack­down.

Al Qaeda’s in­volve­ment could fur­ther fuel the sec­tar­ian ten­sions that the up­ris­ing al­ready has stoked.

Al Qaeda sup­port­ers are largely Sunni Mus­lim ex­trem­ists. Syria’s mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is stacked heav­ily with mem­bers of the mi­nor­ity Alaw­ite sect, an off­shoot of Shi­ite Is­lam to which Mr. As­sad and the rul­ing elite be­long. The Alaw­ite lead­ers of Syria are closely al­lied with Shi­ite Iran.

Sun­nis are the ma­jor­ity in the coun­try of 22 mil­lion and make up the back­bone of the op­po­si­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­stroyed cars on Sun­day lit­ter the area near the Syr­ian avi­a­tion in­tel­li­gence depart­ment in Da­m­as­cus. Bombs struck gov­ern­ment tar­gets in the Syr­ian cap­i­tal early Satur­day, killing se­cu­rity forces and civil­ians and leav­ing pools of blood and car­nage in the streets, ac­cord­ing to state-run tele­vi­sion.

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