DAMASCUS, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday condemned a mosque attack earlier in the day that killed a prominent Islamic scholar and 42 others in the capital Damascus.
Mohammad Saed Ramadan al-Bouti, 84, was delivering a lecture at al-Eman Mosque in central Damascus' district of al-Mazraa when a suicide bomber detonated himself from inside the mosque. At least 84 others were wounded.
As Assad put it, the blood of the cleric and his fellow martyrs will not go in vain.
Al-Bouti, born in 1929 in the village of Ayn Dewar in northern Syria, was a retired dean and a professor at the College of Islamic Law at Damascus University. He preaches very often and is highly respected by many of the leading scholars in the Muslim world.
He, known for his anti-terrorism stances and criticism of the radical rebels, was the target of the explosion, the state-run SANA news agency said, adding his grandson was among the killed.
After al-Bouti's death, the rebels' Free Syrian Army denied responsibility for the attack, saying they "don't target the houses of God." However, pro-opposition tweets on Twitter have shown great deal of gloating over the death of al-Bouti and branded him as "the Mufti of Assad."
Al-Bouti's last lecture was delivered last week when he called on Syria's grand mufti to declare the general mobilization to back the Syrian troops in its battles against "mercenaries."
"We are invaded in every inch of our land, in our bread, in our lives, women, children sanctities and honor,'' he said.
"We are today in front of a legitimate duty ... which is the need of mobilization to protect the values, the homeland and the holy sites, and there is no difference, in this case, between the army and the rest of this nation," he said.
The brazen attack is the first of its kind taking place inside a mosque in the heart of Damascus, which has been spared largely the spiraling violence elsewhere in the country.
In a letter of condolence, President Assad said "They have killed you our Sheikh because you raised the voice in the face of their dark thinking that aims originally to destroy the principles of our forgiving religion."
"A promise from the Syrian people and I am one of them that your blood, your grandson and the martyrs of today and all the homeland will not go in vain, because we will stay following your thinking to eliminate their darkness," Assad said.
The Ministry of Religious Endowments also slammed the attack, saying "the malicious hands of traitors killed the great scholar because he was the voice of Syria, the right of Syria and the image of Syria ... they targeted his body, but they didn't target his mentality or spirit."
The ruling al-Baath party said "this massacre adds to the crimes perpetrated by the mercenary terrorists against the Syrians ... they target everything including the mosques and houses of worship."
For his side, Archbishop Luka al-Khouri, general vicar of the patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, said the late scholar's teachings will be remembered in the minds of all Syrians.
"We all pray for the rest of our martyrs whom we respect," Archbishop al-Khouri told the state TV.
Also, the Syrian cabinet branded the act as "cowardly and treacherous" and stressed that it will not pass with impunity.
WASHINGTON, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Initial U.S. intelligence did not show that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Syria's Aleppo province Tuesday, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Analysis of a video of Syrian victims hospitalized after the strike, which killed at least 15 others, suggested they were not suffering from a chemical weapons attack or being treated as though they were in such an attack, a U.S. military official was quoted by the CNN as saying. Full story