BEIRUT -- A bomb-laden car driven by a suicide attacker exploded Thursday near a major Shiite Muslim shrine outside the Syrian capital of Damascus, injuring 14 people and damaging part of the shrine, according to Syrian state media and news agency reports.
It was the latest in a series of car bombs that have killed scores of Syrians and elevated tensions in the country's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, where the bombings have been the most dramatic manifestation of the more than yearlong insurrection. Authorities have blamed Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants from Syria and other nations, including neighboring Iraq and Jordan, for previous suicide bombings.
It was unclear if the intended target of Thursday’s strike was a nearby police station or the golden-domed Sayyida Zainab shrine, the Associated Press reported. The shrine is one of Shiite Islam’s holiest and most magnificent sites and a favored destination of Shiite pilgrims, especially Iranians. It is said to be the burial place of a revered granddaughter of the prophet Muhammad.
The blast on Thursday shattered shrine windows, knocked down chandeliers and ceiling fans, and cracked mosaic walls inside the religious site, AP reported.
Official Syrian state media said 14 people were injured in Thursday’s explosion, which occurred inside a parking lot. State media displayed photos from the scene showing destroyed vehicles, a shattered cement building and a crater where the bomb car apparently detonated.
Syria’s 15-month civil conflict has taken on an increasingly sectarian character, with members of the nation’s majority Sunni Muslim community leading the fight to oust President Bashar Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Among Assad’s staunchest international supporters are Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Shiite militant group.
--Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Syrian security forces officers hold portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the windows of their building, which was destroyed after a car bomb exploded Thursday near the shrine of Sayyida Zainab in a suburb of Damascus, Syria. Credit: Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press.