42 killed in Damascus bombing

42 killed in Damascus bombing

Pro-Assad cleric dead

A suicide bomb attack on a central Damascus mosque has killed 42 people, including Syria’s most prominent pro-regime Sunni cleric, wounding dozens of others, the health ministry said.

The attack came on Thursday as heavy fighting raged across Syria, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the UN would investigate whether chemical weapons have been used in the conflict.

The bomber blew himself up inside the Iman Mosque as the cleric, Mohamed al-Bouti, addressed religious students, in an attack that echoed sectarian violence in Iraq.

“The number of those martyred in the terrorist suicide attack in the Iman Mosque rises to 42 martyrs with 84 injured,” state television said, citing the health ministry.

Bouti was the most senior pro-regime Sunni cleric in Syria. His weekly addresses at Friday prayers were frequently broadcast live on state television.

His death is a blow to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which has been fighting an insurgency that flared when his forces launched a bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests that erupted in March 2011.

The relentless violence has killed tens of thousands of people and caused more than one million to flee their homes as refugees.

Pro-government television aired gruesome footage from inside the mosque, where dozens of corpses and body parts, including limbs and hands, were strewn on the carpeted floor in pools of blood.

Emergency workers collected the remains and carried them out in grey body bags.
Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the umbrella opposition National Coalition, condemned the cleric’s killing as a “crime”. He suggested the regime could have been behind it.