Islamist militants belonging to a splinter group of Al Qaeda on Wednesday bombed a large Shiite Muslim shrine in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, activists reported.
A photo posted on Twitter, captioned “the pagan Iranian shrine”, showed that Wednesday’s attack left extensive damage to the holy site’s exterior walls and roof, Reuters reported.
Another showed rubble – including concrete and twisted metal – lying outside the mosque, whilst there was supporting evidence to suggest some interior walls had also fallen down.
The mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Oweis al-Qarni was a popular Shiite shrine for pilgrims travelling from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq before Sunni rebels took control of it last year after battling Syrian armed forces, Reuters reported. It was built under Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule with supporting from Shiite powerhouse Iran.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) – a splinter group of Al Qaeda – was to blame for the two powerful explosions on Wednesday morning that destroyed the shrine.
Many extremist fighters from ISIS and other militant Sunni Islamist groups fighting in Syria regard Shiites to be “infidels and consider their shrines idolatrous, and therefore legitimate targets,” Reuters reported.
The increasing desecration of Shiite shrines at Sunni extremist hands has reportedly caused concern within Turkey, as the tomb of Suleyman Shah, dubbed the “grandfather of the Ottoman Empire”, lies under Ankara’s control despite it being in Syrian territory. It lies on the Euphrates river and was put under Turkey’s control in 1921 when Syria was under French rule.
Ankara earlier this month warned that if any party attacks the mausoleum, it would retaliate.
According to Reuters, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Sunday that his country would defend the site in the same way it would defend any Turkish territory. "However the motherland is protected, that place will be protected in the same way," he said.
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