Damascus, Syria witnessed a violent episode of terror as explosions when a pair of bombs caused carnage and led to dozens of deaths.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pair of bomb blasts were detonated within minutes of one another on March 11. The explosions seemed to have targeted Shia Muslim pilgrims in buses near the Bab-Al-Saghir Cemetery, which houses several Shiite shrines and draws people from around the world.
The following day the Observatory, in a BBC report, claimed that the casualties, consisting mostly of Iraqi pilgrims, have amounted to 74 dead and 120 wounded. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry delivered a statement condemning the attacks, while stating the death figure at least at 40.
The attacks were claimed by Tahrir-Al-Sham, a coalition of extremists and fighters consisting of Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria. The group is amongst the many organizations that have developed deep and vested hatred towards the Syrian government, because they are excluded from peace talks, targeted by the Assad regime and by Russian airstrikes.
Al-Jazeera reports that Tahrir-Al-Sham had targeted whom they believed were “Iranian militants” and other pro-Syrian government fighters. These attacks were subsequently a means of harassing the government for their recent strides on the Syrian front. The Assad government, with support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, had achieved progress that could not have been done without their support.
The Syrian government, through its state-run news, has called the attacks “cowardly”, and the government has urged the UN Secretary General and the Chairman of the UN security to quickly condemn the attacks. Additionally, the Syrian government has told the United Nations that everyone who is involved in the Russian-backed peace talks should “distance themselves from terrorist organizations”.
Such attacks have once again signaled a failure on behalf of the Syrian capital to distance itself from the carnage that the six-year war has manifested so far.
The site near where the explosions took place, Bab El Saghir Cemetery, is an Islamic landmark that contains the burial sites of several of Prophet Muhammad’s Sahabah or companions. The site receives a massive influx of Shiite pilgrims from Iraq and Iran due to the vested history behind those who have been buried in it. Some of whom were either Sahabah, pious predecessors, or relatives from the Prophet’s and Ali Bin Abi Taleb’s bloodlines.
Bab El Saghir is one of the several landmarks that Damascus harbors, dear to the hearts of many Shia and Sunni alike. Unfortunately, these landmarks make easy targets for groups similar to Tahrir-Al-Sham, who crave recognition and acknowledgment.
Throughout the course of the six-year war, Shiite shrines in Syria have become frequently attacked by Sunni extremist based groups, most notably the Islamic State group and affiliates of Al Qaeda.
The Sayeda Zeinab Mausoleum, considered to be the nation’s holiest shrine, is often victim to attacks. The religious shrine harbors the burial site of Zaynab, the daughter of Ali bin Taleb and granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad. In January of 2016, the revered Shiite shrine witnessed a massive attack by the Islamic State that left 71 killed, and in June 2016.
The Islamic State would later strike the same location, this time leaving 50 dead from a double suicide attack.
With 300,000 deaths and millions wounded, terror and militant groups are being cornered and slowly suffocated, an in turn will resort to attacks like these to reestablish relevance in the Syrian conflict.