ISIS claims car bomb attack that killed nine in Damascus

Policemen at the site of the bombing, which is the first attack in Damascus to be claimed by ISIS. The blast tore up a vegetable market and a police officers' club, and left at least 20 people injured.
Policemen at the site of the bombing, which is the first attack in Damascus to be claimed by ISIS. The blast tore up a vegetable market and a police officers' club, and left at least 20 people injured.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

GAZIANTEP (Turkey) • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), using its official media channels, has claimed responsibility for a car bomb which tore up a vegetable market and a police officers' club in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday, killing nine people, including eight policemen, and wounding at least 20 others.

The blast took place in Masaken Barzeh, a neighbourhood on the northern edge of the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain that has extensive contacts inside Syria, said the suicide bomber wore a police uniform, a tactic used in the past by ISIS.

The terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated on social media. It said one of its members had detonated an explosives-laden car at a club for "criminal" police officers, and claimed that the attack had killed nearly 20 people and wounded 40.

ISIS said the police officers' club was the target of the bombing. But the club is inside a market, adding to the likelihood that civilians could be killed or wounded.

Car bombs have been used regularly in Syria's war, often to devastating effect.

Syrian state television cited a source in the Interior Ministry saying a car had tried to ram into the police officers' club, but was stopped by guards.

"A suicide bomber then detonated his explosives, causing deaths and injuries," the state broadcaster reported.

According to a witness, a large explosion took place at the officers' club, which was frequented by government troops and allied fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The witness added that the blast had blown out the windows of his home, about 90m away.

It was the first attack in Damascus to be claimed by ISIS, although the group said it was behind an assault last month on the Sayeda Zeinab shrine, on the outskirts of the capital, which left dozens dead.

The blast was believed to be the most violent episode in the area since insurgents under the banner of the Free Syrian Army reached a truce. Under the deal, the insurgents maintain security in the neighbourhood. They have, at times, set up checkpoints at the entrance to the district, next to the ones controlled by security forces.

Unlike other local deals, which have been more lopsided - akin to surrenders after long sieges - the insurgents in Barzeh had real leverage. They were not besieged and were controlling a route that government forces needed to reach a military hospital.

However, ISIS is not a party to such deals, and it considers the national government and the Free Syrian Army to be enemies.

The witness said dozens of security officers aided the victims, some of whom were taken away in private cars.

Tuesday's blast came amid government advances against insurgents in northern Syria, a signal that even as the leadership goes on the offensive in some parts of the country, government-controlled areas, including those believed to be secure, remain vulnerable.

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'ISIS claims car bomb attack that killed nine in Damascus'. Print Edition | Subscribe