The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group on Sunday claimed responsibility for bombings near a revered Shiite shrine outside the Syrian capital Damascus that killed at least 60 people, including 25 Shiite fighters.
In a statement circulated on social media, the militant group said two of its members had detonated suicide bombs near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine.
“Two soldiers of the caliphate carried out martyrdom operations in a den of the infidels in the Sayyida Zeinab area, killing nearly 50 and injuring around 120,” the group said.
Syrian state media earlier reported 45 people had been killed and 110 injured in the attacks, which it said involved a car bomb and two suicide bombers.
The shrine of Sayyida Zeinab is a destination of mass pilgrimage for Shiite Muslims.
State television showed footage of burning buildings and wrecked cars in the neighborhood.
Syrian state news agency SANA, quoting an interior ministry source, said a group of militants had detonated a car bomb near a public transport garage in the neighborhood’s Koua Sudan area.
Two suicide bombers then blew themselves up nearby as people were being rescued.
“Bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage,” a witness told state news channel Ikhbariyah.
The explosions occurred as representatives of Syria’s government and its divided opposition began convening in Geneva for the first U.N.-mediated peace talks in two years.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaki was quoted as saying the attacks were prompted by “terror groups” who sought to “raise their morale after a string of defeats” by the army.
The United Nations has said it is aiming for six months of talks, first seeking a ceasefire and later working toward a political settlement for Syria. The nearly five-year conflict has killed more than 250,000 people, driven more than 10 million from their homes and drawn in global powers.
The Sayeda Zeinab shrine area witnessed heavy clashes in the first few years of the war but has since been secured by the Syrian army and Shiite militias led by Hezbollah, which has set up protective roadblocks around it.
The shrine houses the grave of the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the cousin of Prophet Mohammed, whom Shi'ites consider the rightful successor to the prophet. The dispute over the succession led to the major Sunni-Shiite schism in Islam.
Iraqi and Iranian Shiite militia groups that have volunteered to fight Sunni Islamist radicals in Syria in a conflict that has heavy sectarian overtones often say they are coming to Syria to defend the shrine.
Many have their headquarters in the area near the shrine, according to residents.
(With AFP, Reuters)SHOW MORE