Nearly 100 wounded as bombers target Syria's state intelligence HQ
Suicide bombers attacked two secret police headquarters in Damascus yesterday, killing 27 people and leaving nearly 100 wounded, according to Syrian government sources.
The bombings appeared to mark a dangerous escalation in Syria's crisis, just weeks after the regime crushed a rebel stronghold in Homs.
Government spokesmen blamed Islamist terrorists for the attacks. Many anti-regime activists believe similar bombings since January have been staged to give the government an excuse to crack down on its opponents.
The explosions hit the aviation intelligence department -- the most hated branch of Syria's police state -- and the criminal security department, at around 7.30am.
State television showed pools of blood, body parts strewn across streets, and wrecked and burned vehicles from the aftermath.
"We heard a huge explosion. At that moment, the doors in our house were blown out, even though we were some distance from the blast," one elderly man, with a bandage wrapped round his head, told Syrian television, which also showed what it said was the charred corpse of a terrorist in a burned vehicle. There were reports of a third bomb attack targeting a military bus in Damascus. Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, which Syrians fear may herald the start of a prolonged suicide bombing campaign of the kind seen in neighbouring Iraq.
Hours earlier, former UN chief Kofi Annan warned that the crisis could soon spread to neighbouring countries. Mr Annan has been the latest international figure to attempt a peace mission to Damascus, yet President Bashar al-Assad appears increasingly immune to international pressure.
"We are winning on the battlefield, and winning the battle on television," Mr Assad told supporters last week. But as the violence worsens, predictions are being made that Syria will be engulfed by a religious insurgency.
"Opponents of the regime are beginning to realise there will be no Tahrir Square moment," said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at Oklahoma University. "They are going to have to fight a long battle against a regime that is not going to crumble. They will move to an insurgency, of hit-and-run attacks and assassination. It will be more and more Islamicised, with people ready to sacrifice themselves."
Hardline preachers in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia are trying to raise money for the rebels, and have so far been their only real source of substantial foreign support.
Tens of thousands of regime supporters turned out for demonstrations on Thursday, the first anniversary of the revolution's outbreak, brandishing pictures of their president. It was the strongest display of support for the regime for months.
"These crowds want to get a message across to the whole world that the Syrian people will remain united as ever in combating terrorism,'' said Monzer Mohammad, one of the demonstrators.
Only a few weeks ago, Mr Assad, who styled himself as a reformist when he took power a decade ago, looked doomed to share the fate of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed by rebels last October. But then, urged on by his family and advisers, he decided to crush Homs, parts of which were in open revolt. He was following the example of his father, President Hafez Assad, who in 1982 smashed a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama, killing 30,000 people.