At least six people were killed in a bomb attack on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims from Lebanon near a historical marketplace in Damascus, Syria, on Sunday.
In a statement released via Twitter, Jabhat al Nusra, or the Nusra Front, a branch of al Qaeda in Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack and applauded the suicide bomber they said was responsible.
SANA, the Syrian state news agency, and al Manar, owned by the Shiite group Hezbollah, said explosives were on the bus and had detonated.
“The bus was badly destroyed and there were body parts everywhere,” said Maher Almounes, a resident of Damascus who was present at the aftermath of the explosion at the entrance of the Souk al-Hamidieh.
The attack took place during a crowded time at the marketplace, Mr. Almounes said. “People were terrified and so confused,” he added.
According to Nusra’s statement, the attack was in response to Hezbollah launching attacks on the “Sunna people in Syria and Lebanon.”
The deadly explosion comes at a time of heightened sectarian tension in Syria that has seeped into Damascus. Lebanese Hezbollah militants—as well as other Shiite fighters bolstering the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad —have taken a much higher profile in the capital and in Syria over the past year.
Hezbollah released a statement condemning the attack hours after the explosion and said it was another episode in a string of targeted attacks against worshipers in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan.
“This explosion represents evidence of the extent of barbarianism simmering in the heart of those terrorists,” the statement said.
“What these criminals are doing around the world, from bombings, to beheadings, to destroying religious sanctuaries, must be motivation for all the rational and the living forces of the [Islamic] nation and in the world to focus their efforts on fighting and eliminating them,” the statement added.
In an itinerary seen by The Wall Street Journal for a similar trip belonging to the organizers of the targeted tour group, the bus leaves from Beirut every Sunday to visit the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zainab in Damascus.