MOSCOW, March 22 (RIA Novosti) - At least 42 people were killed, including a pro-government senior Muslim cleric, and over 80 were wounded in an explosion at the Iman Mosque in downtown Damascus on Thursday, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.
According to the agency, a suicide bomber set off an explosive device at the mosque during a religious lesson given by Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of President Bashar al-Assad.
The 84-year-old cleric and religious scholar was killed in the blast. Sheikh al-Buti used to deliver mosque sermons on Fridays on state television. He particularly condemned terrorism and violence.
SANA reported that al-Buti’s grandson was also among the killed in the blast.
Al Arabiya reported that the Free Syrian Army, fighting the regime of Assad, denied any involvement in the death of Sheikh al-Buti.
“We in the Free Syrian Army do not take any responsibility for this operation. We do not do these types of suicide bombings and we do not target mosques,” Al Arabiya quoted rebel spokesman Loay Maqdad as saying.
Syria’s Al-Ikhbariya television channel broadcast footage from the inside of the mosque after the blast, showing dozens of dead bodies mixed with scattered limbs and hands on the carpeted floor. The presenter of the channel said a suicide bomber entered the mosque and blew up himself.