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Syrian bombing: A jihadi attack?

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The London-based Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper claimed Sunday that a brigadier general who was a senior Syrian intelligence officer was among the 17 people killed in the explosion. While the Syrian authorities have said only civilians were killed in the attack, the general's death, if true, could indicate that the bombing was a targeted assassination rather than a random mass-casualty attack.

Still, initial speculation suggests that those responsible for the bomb attack were Sunni jihadists reacting to a possible crackdown by the Syrian authorities.

The Syrian regime survives through coercion, guile, and force and has enjoyed considerably more stability than its neighbors in the past quarter century. But since 2004, there has been a spate of attacks and clashes between the Syrian security forces and suspected Al Qaeda-style militants.

Some analysts say the clashes, which included an attack on the US embassy in Damascus two years ago, were contrived by the state to win sympathy from the West. Others believe that Syria faces a genuine threat from the region's jihadists who resent the regime's domination by the Alawites (an off-shoot of Shiite Islam that Islamic hard-liners regard as heretical), abhor Syria's ties with Shiite Iran, and oppose Damascus's indirect peace talks with Israel.

On top of the potential jihadist threat, Syria has been rocked by mysterious assassinations and security breaches this year.

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