A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-packed vehicle in central Damascus today, killing 16 people and wounding more than 140. The suicide attack is the second in the Syrian capital in two weeks.
The blast took place “near the Central Bank carpark by the Saba’ Bahrat square and Shahbandar square,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the civil war in the country. The group reported that “[t]he dead were mostly civilians, 12 civilians, and there were 4 killed who were from the regular forces.”
SANA, the Syrian state-run news agency, described the attack as a “terrorist bombing” and said that it took place in “a crowded area near Salim Bukhari school, Buaeir Mosque and residential buildings.”
Today’s attack is the third suicide bombing in the Syrian capital in 18 days. The last attack, on March 26, killed three people. The previous suicide attack in Damascus, on March 22, killed Mohammad Said Ramadan al Bouti, a senior Sunni cleric who was a mouthpiece for President Assad.
While no group has claimed credit for the suicide attack in Damascus, it was likely executed by the the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
The Al Nusrah Front has claimed credit for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). So far this year, 17 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 14 of them.
The Al Nusrah Front is one of the most effective groups fighting the government of President Bashar al Assad. It is estimated to have more than 10,000 fighters, and often serves as the vanguard for rebel military operations throughout the country. The Al Nusrah Front has overrun several major military bases throughout Syria. Additionally, the Al Nusrah Front controls much of eastern Syria, including the provincial capital of Raqqah and a major dam on the Euphrates River. It also controls a section of the border with Jordan and the Israeli-controlled Golan. The Al Nusrah Front has imposed sharia, or Islamic law, in Aleppo and in eastern Syria.