At least six people have been killed and more than 20 others wounded in a terrorist bombing near a Shia Muslim shrine south of the Syrian capital Damascus, a day ahead of Ashura, a significant day of mourning observed by Shia Muslims. The blast occurred near the Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum, which is Syria’s most visited Shia pilgrimage site. The interior ministry confirmed that the explosion was caused by a motorcycle that exploded near a taxi, describing it as a “terrorist bombing.” State television initially reported that the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in a taxi by unidentified individuals.
Eyewitnesses recounted the terrifying incident, with one civil servant, Ibrahim, stating that a huge blast was heard, causing people to run for safety. Ambulances and security forces quickly arrived at the scene, cordoning off the area. The explosion occurred around 600 meters from the mausoleum of Sayeda Zeinab, who was the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad and the daughter of Imam Ali, both revered figures in Shia Islam.
Photos and videos shared on social media showed the aftermath of the blast, with a charred taxi surrounded by large crowds and buildings adorned with Ashura flags and banners. Two men covered in blood and dust were carried off the ground by onlookers, calling for help. The facades of nearby shops were shattered, and one was on fire. The area is known for being close to positions of Iranian militias, key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alongside Russia in Syria’s ongoing 13-year-long conflict.
Ashura is an important day in the Islamic calendar, especially for Shia Muslims. It marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his 72 companions in the Battle of Karbala in the seventh century, which took place in present-day Iraq. The day is the peak of the mourning procession and is observed through various rituals, including voluntary fasting.
The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum has been a frequent target for attacks during Syria’s civil war that began in 2011. While Shia militiamen, primarily from Lebanon and Iraq, along with the Syrian army, have been defending the mosque complex, deadly bombings have still occurred. In February 2016, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a double suicide attack just 400 meters from the mausoleum, resulting in the deaths of 134 people, including over 90 civilians. Several weeks earlier, the group also claimed responsibility for a triple blast near the shrine, which killed at least 70 people.
Despite the decline in attacks in recent years and the relaxation of some security measures, the threat of terrorism remains a concern in the region. The targeting of religious sites and gatherings like the Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum during significant religious events poses a grave danger to innocent civilians and disrupts the sense of safety and stability in the area. The international community continues to monitor the situation closely and offers support to Syria in its efforts to combat terrorism and promote peace and security in the region.