- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2012

DAMASCUS, Syria — Two suicide car bombs ripped through the Syrian capital Thursday, killing 55 people and tearing the facade off a military intelligence building in the deadliest explosions since the country’s uprising began 14 months ago, the Interior Ministry said.

Residents said the blasts happened in quick succession during morning rush hour, with an initial small explosion followed by a larger bomb that appeared aimed at onlookers and rescue crews arriving at the scene.

Paramedics wearing rubber gloves collected human remains from the pavement as heavily damaged cars and pickup trucks smoldered.

There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday’s blasts. But an al Qaeda-inspired group has claimed responsibility for several past explosions, raising fears that terrorist groups are entering the fray and exploiting the chaos.

In addition to the 55 dead, the ministry also said there were 15 bags of human remains, meaning the death toll was likely to rise.

More than 370 people were wounded in the attack, according to the ministry, which is in charge of the country’s internal security. It said the explosives weighed more than 2,200 pounds.

The U.S. condemned the attack, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying “any and all violence that results in the indiscriminate killing and injury of civilians is reprehensible and cannot be justified.”

Central Damascus is under the tight control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad but has been struck by several bomb attacks, often targeting security installations or convoys, since the revolt against him began in March 2011.

The previous attacks happened on a weekend when many people stay home from work, making it less likely for civilians to be killed.

Thursday’s blast was similar to attacks waged by al Qaeda in Iraq, which would bolster past allegations by top U.S. intelligence officials that the terror network from the neighboring country is the likely culprit behind previous bombings in Syria.

That raises the possibility that its fighters are infiltrating across the border to take advantage of the political turmoil.

A shadowy group called the Al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks in statements posted on militant websites. Little is known about the group, though Western intelligence officials say it could be a front for al Qaeda’s Iraq branch.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called for Mr. Assad’s ouster in February.

The Syrian government blames the bombings on the terrorists it says are behind the uprising, which has been the most potent challenge to the Assad family dynasty in Syria in four decades.

But opposition leaders and activists routinely blame the regime for orchestrating the attacks, saying they help it demonize the opposition and maintain support among those who fear greater instability.

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