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Senior cleric, others killed in Syria mosque bombing

In this undated photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Sheik Muhammad Bouti speaks at a news conference. The Sunni Muslim cleric and longtime supporter of President Bashar Assad was killed Thursday in a bombing at the Iman Mosque in Damascus, Syria.
(Unknown / Associated Press)
<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

ANTAKYA, Turkey -- A senior pro-government Sunni Muslim cleric was killed in the Syrian capital Thursday night when an explosion struck the mosque where he had been giving a lecture.

More than a dozen other people were killed in the blast at the Iman Mosque in Damascus in what appeared to be a targeted assassination of Sheik Muhammad Bouti.

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[Updated 3:49 p.m. March 21: The state-run news agency said the bombing killed 42 people, including the 84-year-old cleric and his grandson, and injured 84. The official news service said a suicide bomber blew himself up while the cleric was giving a religious lesson.]

The cleric had been a prominent supporter of President Bashar Assad since the uprising against the Syrian leader began two years ago. Bouti was imam of the ancient Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

As has become common with such attacks, the regime and opposition traded blame. State news media said the attack was a “suicide terrorist explosion.” The government refers to all opposition members as terrorists.

The Free Syrian Army rebels denied responsibility and said that targeting houses of worship was not part of their strategy.

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