Syria’s Assad vows to cleanse nation of extremists

by FOXNews.com  |  published on March 23, 2013

syria

President Bashar Assad vowed Friday to “wipe out” Muslim extremists in Syria, blaming them for a suicide bombing at a mosque that killed dozens of people, including a top cleric who supported the embattled regime in the civil war.

The death toll from Thursday night’s bombing — the first suicide attack on a mosque in two years of violence in Syria — rose to 49 after seven of the wounded died overnight, the Health Ministry said.

Sheik Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, a top Sunni preacher, was killed as he was giving a sermon in the mosque in the heart of the capital, Damascus. The blast, which also wounded nearly 80 other people, was one of the most brazen assassinations of the civil war, which has seen a number of suicide bombings blamed on Islamic extremists.

Al-Buti, 84, was the most senior religious figure killed in the civil war, and his slaying was a major blow to the president.

The preacher supported the regime since the early days of Assad’s father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad, providing a Sunni cover and legitimacy to their rule. Sunnis are the majority sect in Syria while Assad is from the minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Al-Buti’s grandson was among the dead.

In a statement on Syria’s state-run SANA news agency, Assad said al-Buti represented true Islam in facing “the forces of darkness and extremist” ideology.

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