President Assad vows to clean Syria of extremists

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In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, the Eman Mosque is seen destroyed after a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, an 84-year-old cleric known to all Syrians as a religious scholar, at the Mazraa district, in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, March 21, 2013. A suicide bomber blew himself up during evening prayers inside a mosque in Damascus Thursday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of President Bashar Assad and least 13 other people, state TV reported. Al-Buti's death is a big blow to Syria's embattled leader, who is fighting mainly Sunni rebels seeking his ouster. (AP Photo/SANA)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria's president has vowed to rid the country of Muslim extremists whom he blamed for a suicide bombing that killed 42 people, including a top Sunni preacher.

Friday's statement by Bashar Assad came hours after the explosion ripped through a mosque in the heart of Damascus, killing Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti.

It was one of the most stunning assassinations of the two-year civil war and the first time a suicide bomber struck inside a mosque.

Al-Buti was a staunch supporter of Assad. More than 84 were wounded in the attack.

In the statement carried by Syria's state news agency, Assad says al-Buti represented true Islam in facing "the forces of darkness and extremist" ideology.

Assad says his forces will "wipe out" and "clean our country" of the attackers.