More than 150 people were killed Monday in bombings claimed by the Islamic State in northwestern Syria, the stronghold of the Alawite ethnic minority which has ruled Syria for decades. Seven almost simultaneous explosions blew up bus stations, hospitals and other civilian targets in the seaside cities of Jableh and Tartus, which until today had been considered safe havens from Syria’s five-year civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported that a hundred people were killed in Jableh and at least another 48 in Tartus, including children.
ISIS issued a statement claiming responsibility for the blasts, saying they were in retaliation for Syrian regime’s and the Russians’ air strikes against the jihadists. They vowed “more devastating and bitter attacks.”
ISIS has not had a presence in Syria’s coastal provinces, where al-Qaida’s al-Nusra Front is more prominent. But according to experts, ISIS has been known to use sleeper cells to attack its enemies, both in the Middle East and in Europe.
According to Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, one car bomb detonated first, then, as people were rushing to the area, two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts. Some 15 minutes after the Tartus blasts, explosions began in Jableh, 40 miles to the north.
The Observatory said one car bomb and three suicide attackers targeted a bus station and a power station. One attacker carried victims of the first attack to the emergency room of the local state-run Asaad hospital and then detonated explosives.
Russia condemned the attacks, saying they “demonstrate yet again how fragile the situation is in Syria and the need to take energetic measures to re-launch peace talks.”
The French government called the bombings “heinous.”