Syrian president vows revenge after bombing

BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Friday to avenge the death of a senior pro-government cleric who was killed along with dozens of people in a suicide bombing at a Damascus mosque, saying he would “purge our country” of the militants behind the attack in the heart of the capital.

Both Assad and the rebels seeking to topple him blamed each other for Thursday’s bombing at the mosque. At least 49 people were killed, including the 84-year-old preacher and his grandson, the government said.

Although the cleric was despised by the rebels for his unwavering support of the regime, opposition leaders condemned his killing.

In a statement on Syrian state media, Assad framed the attack as part of a terrorist conspiracy against his government and praised the slain preacher, Sheik Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti.

“Your works full of truthfulness and belief were the best expression of the essence and light of Islam in confronting the powers of darkness and extremist thought that considers others infidels,” Assad was quoted as saying by the SANA news agency.

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