Car Bomb In Syrian Capital Kills 17

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Alia Ibrahim
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 28, 2008

CAIRO, Sept. 27 -- A car bomb killed 17 people on a busy street in Syria's capital Saturday, in the third deadly political attack this year in the tightly policed Arab country.

Interior Minister Bassim Abdel Majid told state television that "terrorists" were responsible for the attack and that an investigation had been ordered.

For now, he said, "we cannot blame any party."

The car was packed with 440 pounds of explosives, according to Syria's state news agency, and blew up about 8:45 a.m. in a southern Damascus neighborhood around a Shiite shrine called Sayeda Zaineb. The shrine draws pilgrims from Iran and other countries.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the neighborhood has become home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing violence in their country.

Many of the Iraqis crowded into the district are poor, unemployed and living on expired visas.

"We escaped from the car bombs in Baghdad, but they've followed us here," Hassan al-Rubaie, an Iraqi teacher who lives in the neighborhood, said by telephone.

State security officials cordoned off the blast site and barred all journalists but state television crews. News footage of the scene showed a tall building identified as a post for a branch of the Syrian security services.

Under President Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000, and his son and successor, Bashar al-Assad, Syria has maintained a secretive network of security agencies that monitor the country's people -- and other branches of government -- and restrict information on most security matters.

In February, a car bomb in Damascus killed Imad Mughniyah, a security chief for Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based armed political movement backed by Syria and Iran.

Last month, a gunman shot to death a Syrian general identified by the Syrian opposition and Israeli officials as a top liaison with Hezbollah.

The motives and identities of the killers in both cases remain unknown.

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