BEIRUT -- Twin attacks on two Syrian security offices in the central city of Homs Saturday killed at least 32 people, including a senior security official who heads the area’s branch of the feared Military Intelligence services, state media and officials reported.
An al Qaeda-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also left another high-ranking officer seriously wounded. In a statement on their Telegram channel, the group said five attackers stormed the two different security offices. The group said bombs were also detonated at checkpoints outside the buildings just as rescuers were arriving, leading to more casualties.
The governor of Homs Province, Talal Barzani, told The Associated Press there were three blasts in total, killing more than 32 people. He said the attackers were wearing suicide belts, which they detonated in the security offices. The two agencies are 1.2 miles apart.
Syrian State News Agency SANA said Maj. Gen Hassan Daeboul, head of the local Military Intelligence branch, was killed by one of the suicide bombers.
According to state TV and state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV, Brigadier Ibrahim Darwish, head of the State Security Branch, was also critically wounded in the attacks.
According to Ikhbariya, at least six assailants attacked the two security compounds in Homs’ al-Ghouta and al-Mahata neighborhoods, clashing with security officers before at least two of them detonated explosive vests, killing 32 people. It was not clear if there are any civilians among the casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said at least 42 security officers were killed in the attacks on the offices of the State Security and the Military Intelligence services.
The differing casualty estimates could not be immediately reconciled. Such discrepancies are not uncommon in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria.
The violence comes as U.S. advisers have turned their attention to strongholds for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in Syria. Several camps are being run by U.S. special forces to train Syrian fighters, part of a force of about 15,000 being assembled to assault the de-facto ISIS capital of Raqqa.
After 20 days of training, recruits will leave one such base with an AK-47 rifle and a belt of ammunition and head for the front. U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin the fighters will need to be supplied with more powerful weapons before they can retake Raqqa, which has been heavily fortified by ISIS.
“We obviously want the people that are fighting here, fighting against ISIS to have the equipment that they need to be successful,” Votel told Martin.
Homs is Syria’s third-largest city and largely in the control of the government.
The attacks are among the most spectacular perpetrated against security agencies in the six-year old conflict - a coordinated operation against two heavily secured government buildings using a combination of armed assault and suicide bombings.
In the early days of the conflict, bombings targeting state security institutions were frequent, usually against military intelligence branches in Damascus and other cities. One of the most dramatic attacks came in July 2012, when insurgents detonated explosives inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus, killing four top regime officials, including the brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad and the then-defense minister.
The Syrian security forces run a vast intelligence network that enjoys great powers and operates independently of the military and with little judicial oversight. Rights groups and Syria monitors hold the various branches responsible for some of the more shadowy crimes committed during the conflict, including mass arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and firing on protesters.
In a February report, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International reported that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were killed in mass hangings in the military’s Saydnaya prison in Damascus between 2011 and 2015. It said the detainees were sent to the prison from around the country by the state’s four main security branches, including the Military Intelligence.