BEIRUT (AP) — A strong explosion shook Syria's eastern city of Deir el-Zour Saturday, apparently targeting a security agency in the latest of a wave of blasts to hit the country in recent months, state media and opposition activists reported.
State TV said a car bomb caused casualties and severe damage to residential and state buildings nearby. The pro-government Ikhbariya TV said the blast happened inside a parking lot connected to a military complex.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the explosion, which it also identified as a car bomb, took place near where the city branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate and Air Force Intelligence are located. Amateur videos posted online showed thick black smoke hovering over the city.
Security agency compounds in several Syrian cities have been targeted by a wave of explosions in the past months. The blasts raise fears that al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants, possibly including fighters from neighboring Iraq, have made strong inroads into Syria's rebel movement.
The most recent bombing targeted an intelligence building in Damascus on May 10. It struck during morning rush hour and the high death toll — some 55 people — made it the deadliest such attack since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began in March of last year.
Some of the tactics used in Damascus — a small blast drawing attention prior to a larger one — were reminiscent of al-Qaida attacks during Iraq's insurgency.
Deir el-Zour is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Iraqi border. Saturday's blast came a day after the state-run news agency SANA reported that authorities foiled an attempt to blow up a car rigged with explosives in the city and detained those involved.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he believes that "alarmingly and surprisingly," al-Qaida must have been behind the May 10 attack in the Syrian capital.
"The recent terrorist attacks in Damascus suggest that these attacks were carefully orchestrated," he said. "Having seen the scale and sophistication of these terrorist attacks, one might think that this terrorist attack was done by a certain group with organization and clear intent. I have strongly condemned these terrorist attacks."