BEIRUT (AP) – Twin explosions Saturday near religious shrines frequented by Shiite pilgrims in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 40 people, Syria’s interior minister and media reported.
Syria State TV aired footage from the scene showing blood-soaked streets and several damaged buses in a parking lot, apparently where the explosions went off near Bab al-Saghir cemetery. The cemetery is one of the capital’s most ancient and is where several prominent religious figures are buried.
Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar visited the injured in local hospitals. He said 40 were killed and 120 were injured. He said the attacks targeted civilians, including Arab visitors, who were frequenting the shrines in the area. He didn’t elaborate, but Iraqi Shiites often visit shrines in Syria. Iranians and other Shiites from Asia are often also among the pilgrims to the area.
There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosions. State news agency SANA said the blasts were caused by bombs placed near the cemetery and that at least 33 were killed and more than a hundred wounded.
Lebanon’s al-Manar TV quoted Syrian officials saying twin suicide attacks killed 40. Arab TV Al-Mayadeen said at least 40 were killed, and the area was sealed by security after the explosions.
Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group with activists on the ground, said at least 46 were killed in the explosions that targeted buses arriving near the cemetery. The Observatory said the death toll is likely higher because dozens were wounded.
A similar attack in Damascus last year targeted one of the most revered Shiite shrines and was claimed by the Islamic State militants.
Bab al-Saghir is one of the seven gates of the old city of Damascus and houses a cemetery where a number of early Islam religious figures, including family members of Prophet Muhammad and figures revered by Shiites, are buried.