In an unusual public relations move, Syrian state television broadcast late Thursday purported confessions of suspected Islamic militants claiming they had carried out the suicide car bombing in downtown Damascus last September that killed 17 people.
Ten men and one woman, said to be members of the al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah Islam group, were paraded on state TV late Thursday, allegedly making statements.
One of the men in the broadcast even claimed that the fugitive Fatah Islam leader Shaker al-Absi masterminded the plot.
The woman shown among the group wore a black headscarf. She was identified as Wafa, al-Absi's daughter. Syria's secular government has already accused militants of carrying out the rare Damascus bombing, but this was the first time Fatah Islam was blamed.
Persistent rumors have spread among ruling circles in Damascus, that al Qaeda, or affiliated offshoots, may have been quietly encouraged by Saudi Arabian intelligence to destabilize Bashar Assad's Alawite pro-Iranian Shi'ite regime. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is unhappy with Syria's support for the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah and the suspected role of Syrian officials in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri, Ryadh's protegee. Syria's ties with Saudi Arabia have indeed been growing tense in recent years, with mutual suspicion deteriorating further due to the recent mysterious events inside Syria.
Not surprising then, that the man identified yesterday, as Abdul-Baki Hussein Abou Ayshah, a Saudi citizen, is suspected of having carried out the suicide bombing with a 200 kilogram high explosive-packed, stolen Iraqi-registered taxi that had operated on the Damascus-Baghdad route.
Suicide bombings are quite rare in Syria, a country tightly controlled by highly efficient security forces, known to use brutal tactics to crack down on suspected dissidents. But over the last ten months, the country has witnessed two major assassinations against senior officials culminating in the high profile murder of the notorious Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh, last February.