Syria arrests ‘Al-Qaeda suspect in Druze bombing’

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Syrian authorities have detained a member of Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front who admitted the group’s responsibility for a double bomb attack in the country’s Druze heartland, state media said Sunday.

The arrested man, named as Al-Wafed Abu Tarabeh, reportedly also confessed the group was behind attacks on government property in Sweida city after the bombings, which killed 31 people.

“Authorities in Sweida today arrested the terrorist Al-Wafed Abu Tarabeh, who confessed to responsibility for the two terrorist bombings on Friday,” state news agency SANA reported.

State television identified Abu Tarabeh as a member of Al-Nusra.

“The terrorist also confessed to participation in the attacks on the military police and security branches... in addition to acts of vandalism and theft in Sweida,” SANA said.

Twin bomb attacks hit Sweida on Friday night, killing 31 people, including prominent Druze cleric and regime critic Sheikh Wahid al-Balous.

After the attacks, residents pelted government buildings with stones, accusing the regime of being behind the bombings.

They destroyed a statue of Hafez al-Assad, father and predecessor of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Angry crowds including armed men also attacked two security buildings in the southwestern city, killing at least six regime security personnel, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Druze, who follow a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam, have been divided during Syria’s civil war, with some members fighting on the government side and others sympathising with the opposition.

Balous was a popular figure among the minority, which made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.

He led Sweida’s most powerful militia in battles against Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, but also opposed conscription of Druze men into the Syrian army’s dwindling ranks.

Analysts said his death would likely benefit Syria’s government, which was angered by his opposition to conscription and his desire to keep the Druze independent.

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