BEIRUT (AP) — Bombs targeting the entrance of a landmark Ottoman railway building in Damascus and a feared security agency in Syria's southeast killed at least 16 people on Wednesday, activists reported.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but rebels tied to al-Qaida have previously claimed bombings of security institutions and have also targeted the center of the capital, trying to take the war to the heart of President Bashar Assad's power.
Eight died and at least 50 more people were wounded in the blast at the country's railways authority, housed in a century-old structure that was once the main Damascus train station, reported state news agency SANA and activists.
State TV broadcast images showing several wounded people walking away from the site of the blast, passing apartment buildings and shops with their windows blown out. Part of the railway building's wooden roof was shattered.
Also Wednesday, a suicide car bomb smashed into the entrance of the air force intelligence agency in the southeast city of Sweida, killing eight people, said activists. State media reported a blast but did not say it hit the security compound.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a high-ranking officer was killed, and the other slain belonged to the security agency. Syria's air force intelligence is notorious for running detention centers where detainees are abused and sometimes tortured.
The blast in Sweida was a rare attack targeting a city dominated by Druse, a small, secretive Muslim sect who have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian war. Syria's 23 million people belong to a startling patchwork of different religious groups, and the three-year conflict has taken increasingly sectarian overtones in the past year. Syrian rebels are overwhelmingly Sunni and some of the strongest fighting brigades are formed of al-Qaida loyalists. Assad's security services are dominated by Alawites, a sect of Shiite Islam to which the Syrian leader belongs.
Syria's minority Christians and Shiites have been targeted in previous attacks because Sunni rebels perceive them as siding with Assad. The Syrian railways authority is housed in a structure was built during the rule of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II, according to a plaque affixed to the building.
It was part of the Hijaz train line that once stretched from the Ottoman Empire's capital of Istanbul to the holy Muslim city of Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. It began running through Damascus in 1908, the plaque said. The Hijaz line was halted years after it was created.
But Syria's internal railway system — partly built off the old Ottoman lines — was only halted during this uprising after rebels attacked part of the railway lines.
Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus and Barbara Surk in Beirut and contributed to this report.