DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up during evening prayers inside a mosque in Damascus Friday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of President Bashar Assad, state TV reported.
The death removes one of the few remaining pillars of support of the Alawite leader among the minority sect that has risen up against him.
Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, an 84-year-old cleric known to all Syrians as a religious scholar who appears often on TV, was killed in the explosion in the Eman Mosque in the central Mazraa district, according to the report.
Syrian TV didn't give more details but said the explosion caused multiple casualties. It occurred at a time the mosque would have been packed with worshippers for Friday evening prayers.
TV footage showed wounded people and bodies with severed limbs on the blood-stained floor of the mosque.
Sirens echoed in the capital as ambulances rushed to the scene of the explosion, which was sealed off by the military.
Al-Buti's death is a big blow to Syria's embattled leader, who is fighting mainly Sunni rebels seeking his ouster. Al-Buti has been a vocal supporter of his regime since the early days of his father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad.
In recent months, Syrian TV has carried his sermon from mosques in Damascus live every week. He also has a regular religious TV program.