A senior pro-government Sunnia cleric is among dozens of people killed in a suicide attack in the Syrian capital after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque.
Dr Mohammed Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti, a longtime supporter of President Bashar al-Assad and Imam of Damascus’ historic Ummayyad Mosque, was killed in the explosion in the Iman Mosque in the central Mezzeh district.
“The number of those martyred in the terrorist suicide attack in the Iman Mosque rises to 42 martyrs with 84 injured,” a bulletin on state television said, citing the country’s health ministry.
Syrian TV said among those killed were Bouti’s grandson.
Television footage showed wounded people and bodies with severed limbs on the bloodstained floor of the mosque.
Ambulances rushed to the scene of the explosion, which was sealed off by the military.
Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the opposition National Coalition, condemned the blast, saying he suspected the regime was behind the attack.
“This is a crime by any measure that is completely rejected,” he told the AFP news agency in Cairo by telephone.
Bouti’s death is a major blow to Syria’s embattled leader, who is fighting mainly Sunni rebels seeking his overthrow.
The cleric, believed to be in his 90s, has been a vocal supporter of his regime since the early days of Assad’s father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad.
In recent months, Syrian TV has carried Bouti’s sermon from mosques in Damascus live every week. He also hosts a regular religious television programme.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, the capital of neighbouring Lebanon, said: “We know that in the past years, he’s [Bouti] been a prominent cleric against the Muslim Brotherhood movement, so for the regime, his death is a loss.”