Leading pro-Assad cleric killed in Damascus bombing: state TV

A top Syrian cleric was killed Thursday in a large explosion that hit a mosque in the center of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria’s state television reported.

“Senior cleric Dr. Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti was martyred in a terrorist suicide attack at the Iman Mosque in Mazraa in Damascus,” the channel reported, adding that there were reports of more dead and wounded.

The Syrian health ministry said the bombing killed 42 people and wounded 84.

*Sheikh al-Bouti, the Syrian Sunni cleric who stood by Assad

Rebel spokesman Loay Maqdad said units associated with the opposition’s Free Syrian Army were not behind the attack.

“We in the Free Syrian Army do not take any responsibility for this operation. We do not do these types of suicide bombings and we do not target mosques,” he told Al Arabiya television.

Al Arabiya television quoted Syrian activists opposed to President Bashar al-Assad as saying that Sheikh Bouti was a staunch supporter of the regime.

They said he is one of the most senior pro-regime Sunni clerics in Syria. His weekly addresses at Friday prayers were frequently broadcast live on state television, AFP reported.

After news of the attack broke, one state television station interrupted its regular program to broadcast verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Syria’s official al-Ikhbariya television channel broadcast gruesome footage from inside the mosque, where dozens of bodies were strewn on the carpeted floor. Body parts including limbs and hands were scattered on the floor.

The footage showed emergency workers collecting corpses from inside the mosque and carrying them out in grey body bags.

A presenter on the channel said a suicide bomber had entered the mosque and blown himself up.

Last Update: Friday, 22 March 2013 KSA 01:19 - GMT 22:19