DAMASCUS — Twin bombings near an elementary school in Syria killed at least 32 people today, including at least ten children, with the second blast going off as screaming parents frantically searched for their sons and daughters in a street littered with school bags and body parts.
Syrian children are frequently among the victims of attacks in the country’s civil war, but today they appear to have been the target. The first vehicle exploded as children were leaving school, and the second struck as adults carried away bodies, sending a new wave of panic through the crowd.
The attack occurred outside the Ekremah al-Makhzoumi elementary school in a government-controlled area of the central city of Homs dominated by minority Alawites, the Shiite offshoot sect to which President Bashar Assad’s family belongs. It was one of the deadliest incidents in the area in months.
The SANA state news agency said at least 32 people were killed and 115 wounded in the attacks. A local official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said immediately after the bombings that at least ten of the dead were children.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll in the twin attacks at 39, including 30 children under the age of 12. It said the second blast was caused by a suicide bomber.
The discrepancy in the casualty figures could not be immediately reconciled, but tolls frequently differ in the chaotic aftermath of attacks.
In footage of the bombings posted on a pro-government Facebook page, one man shouts “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Take him to the hospital!” as another man appears to drag away a child by his arms. Two little girls and a boy scream and cry as they are carried away.
Other people rush about, narrowly avoiding a child’s severed head lying on the pavement. Smoke billows from a burning vehicle. As one boy tugs on a man’s hand another blast goes off. A young girl covers her ears as others scream and run away. “Oh God! Oh God!” one man hoarsely shouts.
The video appeared genuine and was consistent with Associated Press reporting of events.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi described the blasts as a “terrorist act and a desperate attempt that targeted school children”.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for today’s attack, but Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad have carried out numerous bombings in government-held areas of Homs.
All sides have carried out horrific attacks on civilians during the conflict –– now in its fourth year –– but rarely have children appeared to be the direct target.