Assad Vows to Defeat Rebels After Islamic Scholar’s Death

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he will root out Islamist extremists after a suicide bomber killed dozens of people, including a senior Sunni scholar who was one of his staunchest supporters.

The explosion yesterday ripped through the Iman Mosque in Damascus where Sheikh Mohammad Said al-Bouti was giving a religious lesson, the state-run SANA news agency said today. The scholar, his grandson and 47 other people were killed, SANA said, citing the Health Ministry.

Al-Bouti remained a prominent supporter of Assad, an Alawite, even as many of his fellow Sunnis joined the uprising against the regime. Al-Bouti, born in in 1929, called on Syrians fighting to overthrow Assad to “repent and make their jihad consistent with religion,” SANA said on Jan. 11.

Assad is trying to quell the uprising that began in March 2011 and that’s killed more than 70,000 people according to United Nations estimates. Large swaths of the country are now under rebel control, including areas around the capital Damascus. Assad said al-Bouti was killed for facing “the forces of darkness and extremist” ideology in a message of condolence carried by SANA.

“This is a promise from the Syrian people, and I am one of them, that your blood, that of your grandson and the blood of all today’s martyrs and all martyrs of the homeland will not go in vain,” Assad said. “We will adhere to your thought as we are fighting to eliminate their obscurantist thinking until we purge our country of them.”

Opposition Response

The opposition Syrian National Coalition expressed its condolences to the families of the dead in an e-mailed statement.

“The Syrian National Coalition condemns without any hesitation, with the strongest expressions, the terrorist bombing method,” the statement said. It accused “the terrorist Assad regime” of responsibility for the blast given the tight security in the area of the mosque.

The mosque bombing was a “heinous act,” the United Nations Security Council said in a statement today. Such terrorist attacks are “criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”

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