Three car bombs, exploding nearly simultaneously in the largely Kurdish city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, killed at least six people as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group said it shot dead a priest and his father.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s blasts, in which two car bombs exploded in a commercial district of the city, and a third detonated near a hotel, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.
The Kurdish news agency Hawar said the explosions killed six people and wounded 21, and the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a similar casualty toll.
An AFP news agency correspondent saw charred cars and smoke rising from the site of the blasts. Firefighters tried to put out the flames as rescue workers carried away the victims.
The attacks came the same day an Armenian Catholic priest and his father were killed as they travelled to the eastern province of Deir Az Zor from Qamishli, where they were meant to inspect the restoration of a church, according to the Syrian Observatory.
That attack was claimed by the ISIL with its Aamaq website posting a copy of the priest’s identity card.
ISIL persecuted Christians, who made up 10 percent of prewar Syria’s population, and displaced tens of thousands when it ruled large parts of Iraq and Syria beginning in 2014.
Qamishli is a key city in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Syria’s northeast. The area recently rekindled as a hotspot after US President Donald Trump abruptly withdrew American troops last month.
The withdrawal cleared the way for an offensive by the Turkish military attempting to establish a “safe zone” along the border and dispel members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers “terrorists”.
The YPG led the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an important US ally in defeating ISIL in Syria.
Kurdish forces said Turkey’s cross-border attack, which began on October 9, allowed some ISIL fighters to break out of Kurdish jails.
While the SDF declared in March that ISIL had been defeated in a final stand in the village of Baghouz, members have continued to claim deadly attacks in northeast and eastern Syria.
In July, ISIL said it was responsible for a massive truck bomb that killed at least 44 people in Qamishli.
On Sunday, eight people were killed in a bomb blast to the southeast of the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, which Turkey captured in its military offensive last month. While no group claimed responsibility, Ankara blamed the attack on Kurdish fighters.