A suicide bombing tore through a mosque in the Syrian capital Thursday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of President Bashar Assad along with at least 41 other people.
Syrian extremists have killed the wrong Sunni cleric. Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, a top Sunni preacher and supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, was one of 42 people killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Damascus on Friday. In response, Assad has stated that his forces will “wipe out” and “clean our country” of the Muslim extremists he believes are responsible for the attack, the first to target a mosque since the country’s civil war began two years ago. Meanwhile, the United Nations plans to investigate whether either the Syrian government or its rebel opposition has used chemical weapons against one another, as they both have claimed.
It was one of the most stunning assassinations of the two-year civil war and marked a new low in the conflict: while suicide bombings blamed on Islamic extremists fighting with the rebels have become common, the latest attack was the first time a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a mosque. The grandson of the 84-year-old al-Buti was among those killed in the attack.
In the statement carried by Syria's state SUNA news agency, Assad said al-Buti represented true Islam in facing "the forces of darkness and extremist" ideology.
"Your blood and your grandson's, as well as that of all the nation's martyrs will not go in vain because we will continue to follow your thinking to wipe out their darkness and clear our country of them," said Assad.
Syria's crisis started in March 2011 as peaceful protests against Assad's authoritarian rule. The revolt turned into a civil war as some opposition supporters took up arms the fight a harsh government crackdown on dissent. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed since.
It is not yet clear when al-Buti's funeral would take place, although the Syrian government declared Saturday as a day of mourning.