Islamist rebels claim responsibility for twin blasts in Damascus

Iraqi pilgrims killed in Damascus bombings
Iraqi pilgrims killed in Damascus bombings

    JUST WATCHED

    Iraqi pilgrims killed in Damascus bombings

MUST WATCH

Iraqi pilgrims killed in Damascus bombings 01:06

Story highlights

  • Two explosions hit buses of Iraqi pilgrims at a cemetery in Damascus
  • More than 70 people were killed

(CNN)An umbrella group of Syrian Islamist rebels has claimed responsibility for two bombings in Damascus Saturday that killed more than 70 people.

The twin blasts hit buses of Iraqi pilgrims at the Bab al-Saghir cemetery in Damascus, Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said.
As of Sunday, the death toll had reached 74, UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least 20 victims were members of the Syrian regime forces and militiamen loyal to the Syrian regime, the group said.
Bab al-Saghir is a sacred cemetery in the southern section of the old city where descendants and companions of the Prophet Mohammed are buried. Shiites make pilgrimages to the site to pay respects to descendants of Ali, the prophet's cousin, who are buried there.
Syrian forensics examine a bus after the blasts.
The first explosion happened near the cemetery, according to the Observatory, and the second happened nearby, as visitors gathered to witness to the destruction.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a former Al Qaeda affiliate previously known as Jabhat al Nusra, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group said in a statement that it were targeting a group of "occupying Iranian militias," referring to Iranian fighters supporting the Syrian regime, along with Syrian government soldiers.
Iran and Syria are allies. Iranian militias, together with Iranian-backed militias from Lebanon, have been fighting side by side with Syrian regime forces against the rebels.
Syria has been engulfed in a civil war for six years marked by Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict. Last year, ISIS claimed responsibility for deadly attacks near the revered "Lady Zeynab" Shiite Muslim shrine on the southern outskirts of Damascus. Iraq has has also experienced similar attacks.