A group of women morn the attack on a mosque in central Damascus, Syria. (Photo : Reuters)
The city of Damascus erupted in violence as a suicide bomber attack inside a popular central mosque in Mazaraa killed at least 14 people, including Sheikh Mohammed Said Ramadan al-Bouti, a top Sunni cleric, and prominent supporter of President Bashar Assad.
The death of al-Bouti is seen as a pivotal blow to Assad's regime. The elite Sunni official was one of the last remaining champions of Assad in the minority group that is currently rebelling against Syria's government, according to The Guardian.
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"Senior cleric Dr Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti was martyred in a terrorist suicide attack at the Iman Mosque in Mazraa in Damascus," Syrian State TV said, RT.com reported.
Accounts vary among publications concerning the amount of people killed in the bombing. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 people died in the explosion, Beirut-news agency Al-Manar reported that at least 20 were killed, and The Globe and Mail reported that at least 30 were killed.
According to RT.com, "Sirens could be heard echoing through the capital as the scene of the blast was cordoned off by the military. TV footage revealed a chaotic scene of eviscerated bodies with severed limbs strewn across the blood-stained floor of the mosque."
No one has taken responsibility for the assault yet, but the Globe and Mail speculates that the attack may have been perpetrated by "radical Islamist elements" because of the 83-year-old al-Bouti's support for the Assad regime, and suggests al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra could be to blame. al-Bouti had described Syrian rebels in the past as "scum" and had urged Syrians to join the country's armed forces to aid the government in striking down the rebellion to Assad.
President of the Association of Islamic Scholars of Syria and a professor at Damascus University, Sheikh al-Bouti was one of the most famous clerics in the nation. His sermons were broadcast live weekly from different mosques around Damascus, and he also hosted an original religious TV show.