A SUICIDE bomber has detonated a car packed with explosives in a busy residential and financial district of central Damascus, killing at least 15 people, setting cars and buildings on fire and sending plumes of black smoke rising across the capital.
The blast occurred near Sabaa Bahrat Square, one of the Syrian capital’s biggest roundabouts, and also injured 146 people. Syria’s central bank, the finance ministry, a mosque and a school are located nearby.
It was the latest in a series of car bombs and suicide bombings to hit the Syrian capital in recent months. The two-year civil war, which the UN says has killed more than 70,000 people, has become increasingly chaotic as rebels press closer to president Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power in Damascus, after seizing large areas in northern and eastern parts of the country.
TV images showed thick black smoke billowing from a wide street with several cars on fire. At least six bodies were seen lying on the pavement. Paramedics carried a young woman lying on a stretcher, her face bloodied, into an ambulance.
In the early days of the uprising, the Sabaa Bahrat Square was home to huge pro-regime demonstrations that took place with a giant poster of Mr Assad hanging as a backdrop over the central bank building.
“I was in the square when I heard a strong explosion that threw me on the ground,” civil servant Hussein Khalil, 32, said at the scene. “I ran and saw what happened.”
Electrician Mohammed Ali Kheir, 21, said he was nearby and felt the pressure of the blast. “I immediately ran here and helped paramedics evacuate four wounded people,” he said.
“Is this the freedom that Qatar and Saudi Arabia want?” he asked, referring to the Gulf Arab countries that have backed Syrian rebels fighting to remove Mr Assad from power.
Prime minister Wael al-Halqi, visiting the scene, said the blast was the work of “cowards” and had targeted Syria’s economy.