An al Qaeda-linked umbrella organization on Sunday claimed responsibility for a pair of deadly bomb blasts that hit the day before near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The Levant Liberation Committee (LLC), also known as Tahrir al Sham, issued a statement on Sunday, saying that two of its suicide bombers had carried out Saturday's attack that killed at least 40 people, and perhaps as many as 74. More than 100 people were also wounded.
The group said the attack was aimed at Iran, which has been a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"On Saturday ... a twin attack was carried out by two heroes of Islam ... in the center of the capital Damascus, killing and wounding dozens," according to a statement released by the group.
The statement also called the bombings "a message to Iran and its militias."
Most of the dead and wounded, however, were Iraqi Shiites.
Assad's stronghold in Damascus
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring the Syrian conflict, said 43 Iraqi pilgrims were among those killed when a roadside bomb detonated as a bus made its way through the Ban al-Saghir area of Damascus' famed Old City. That was followed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up.
The monitor said 11 bystanders and eight children were among the dead, as were 20 members of the pro-government security forces.
Syrian state television reported a toll of 40 killed and 120 wounded by "two bombs detonated by terrorists," while Iraq's Foreign Ministry said around 40 of its nationals had died.
The attack came two weeks after LLC members attacked two different security offices in the central city of Homs, killing and wounding dozens of people, including a top Syrian security official.
Damascus, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad's government, has been largely spared the violence that has rocked other major cities during Syria's six-year civil war.
But periodic bombings have targeted Shiite shrines and were subsequently claimed by Sunni extremists, including the "Islamic State" jihadist group.
bik/tj (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)