Two explosives-packed vehicles blew up early Wednesday morning near a cluster of commercial buildings in the Damascus, Syria, suburb of Jaramana, killing at least 34 people and wounding 83, according to the state-run news agency SANA.
This latest carnage to hit an area populated by Druze and Christian minorities that mainly supports President Bashar al-Assad further raises concerns of a growing Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple him.
The first car bomb went off as laborers and employees were arriving for work. As residents rushed to help the wounded, the second blast detonated. The twin blasts appeared designed to maximize damage and casualties and bore the hallmarks of radical Islamic groups fighting alongside other rebel units in Syria.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda-inspired extremist group that has become one of Syria’s most potent and organized rebel groups, has claimed numerous suicide bombings in the past, mostly targeting regime forces and security installations.
Opposition fighters are predominantly members of the Sunni Muslim majority. In their push to take Damascus, they have frequently targeted state institutions and troops. The opposition also often hit districts around the capital populated by the country’s minority communities, which are perceived to be allied with Assad’s Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim offshoot.
The rebel groups, with an increasing number of Islamist extremists and foreign fighters among them, have found difficulties winning over the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians and Kurds, as well as other groups that remain wary of an alternative to Assad.
Bombings such as Wednesday’s are likely to rally his support base among those vulnerable minorities, reinforcing their concerns that Islamic extremists are driving the uprising against Assad.
The Assad dynasty has long tried to promote a secular identity in Syria, largely because it has relied heavily on its own Alawite base in the military and security forces in an overwhelmingly Sunni country.