See also Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Uncertainties After the Damascus Bombs
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers
Bahrain Live Coverage: Recognising an Independent Journalist
Turkey Live Coverage (10 May): Fronts At Home and Abroad
Thursday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: "A Divided and Dangerous City"
Note:This is a snap analysis of an unfolding story. Syrian security forces have reportedly thwarted a suicide car bombing in Aleppo which appears to follow a similar pattern as yesterday's attacks. For the latest information please see our Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Uncertainties After the Damascus Bombs
So who was responsible for yesterday's bombing in Damascus? So far, no opposition group has taken any credit for the attack. Indeed, as I pointed out in the latest analysis on the "terrorist" attacks in Syria, there are a series of violent incidents which the opposition has not claimed. A little-known group alleging to be Sunni extremists did claim credit for at least one recent car bombing, but no evidence that conclusively points to any specific perpetrators.
I chatted with several Syrian specialists yesterday, and we all agreed that this is an odd phenomenon. After all, the Free Syrian Army regularly takes credit for attacks that kill Syrian soldiers, often with accompanying video of IEDs, car bombs, or other traps laid out for regime forces.
Then there is this note. Our contacts in Syria all share the story that most FSA attacks never make the Syrian State media, including the strikes in the heart of Damascus and its suburbs. These media never post video or pictures of the operations for which the FSA claims responsibility, presumably because these attacks might portray an air of weakness at a time when the regime is trying to appear strong. However, Syrian media does feature prominently the funerals for soldiers, troops who, according to opposition groups, are often (but certainly not always) killed by their own peers when they refuse to follow orders.
So the contrast that it is those bombings that the Free Syrian Army does not claim which are swarmed by regime media. Live video and pictures of bodies are usually up and running within an hour or two, sometimes less. The victims of these attacks, usually larger in scale than the ones which the Free Syrian Army acknowledges, are civilians as well as regime forces, and the incidents often taken place in neighbourhoods with a strong opposition presence, for example, northern Hama and Midan and Barzeh in Damascus .
So far, the regime has blamed "terrorists", and the opposition has blamed the regime. While the Assad government has not produced an adequate investigation into a single bombing, the Syrian opposition has produced evidence, since the first unclaimed bombing, that some of the attacks are the regime's work. This video, for instance, is a collection of footage from Syrian State TV's coverage of the bombings in the Damascus district of Midan on 6 January. It has been edited to point to suspicious activities being perpetrated by the regime. Though it's an edit, EA editors saw much of this footage that day, and all of this images in this video appear to be from those broadcasts:
Thursday's bombing took place in the al Qazzaz district, an area that has seen almost no activity since the start of unrest. The district is also home to a building belonging to State-run media and is heavily occupied by Syrian security forces:
The al-Qazzaz district of southern Damascus targeted by Thursday's blasts is said to house a military intelligence complex, including the headquarters, 10 floors high, of the counter-terrorism operation for the military security in Syria, involved in al-Assad's crackdown on the ongoing pro-democracy protests.
Next to it was another military security intelligence building which was also destroyed in the attack.
So far, SANA is reporting that 55 are dead and 372 injured, but in their article on the bombing, which contained graphic pictures of those killed, a vast amount of the damage done by the bomb blasts appears to have killed or injured civilians who were in their cars.
Given that the attack does not match the patterns of those for which insurgents claimed responsibility, I am sceptical that these attacks were committed by the mainstream opposition groups. That leaves the option of the Syrian regime rigging these bombings to manipulate international headlines, or that of extremist groups which are increasingly violent and not under the control of the opposition leadership. I'll echo my previous conclusion:
If attacks by fringe groups did become a regular reality, it would be a sign that the Syrian opposition is no longer a unified force, that extremists or opposition members on the fringe have escalated the violence, and they are no longer controlled by opposition's leadership. This would serve as evidence that the longer this crisis continues the more likely it is to get even messier. If Syria decays into an Iraq-style free-for-all, where extremists, suicide bombings, and sectarian murder become the rule rather than the exception, then the security of the entire region, as well as the lives of many Syrians, would be sacrificed as the Assad regime and the international community failed to provide stability to a country on the brink.