More than 100 people have been killed in an attack on a military academy in Syria, a war monitor and an official said, with weaponised drones bombing the site minutes after Syria’s defence minister left a graduation ceremony there.
It was one of the bloodiest attacks ever against a Syrian army installation, and unprecedented in its use of weaponised drones in a country that has endured 12 years of civil war.
Civilians and military personnel were killed in the attack on the military academy in the central province of Homs, Syria’s defence ministry said in a statement, adding “terrorist” groups had used drones to carry it out.
The statement did not specify an organisation and no group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Syria’s defence and foreign ministries vowed in written statements to respond “with full force” to the attack. Syrian government forces have carried out heavy bombing attacks on the opposition-held zone of Idlib throughout the day.
Syria’s defence minister attended the graduation ceremony but left minutes before the attack, according to a Syrian security source and a security source in the regional alliance backing the Damascus government against opposition groups.
“After the ceremony, people went down to the courtyard and the explosives hit. We don’t know where it came from, and corpses littered the ground,” said a Syrian man who had helped set up decorations at the academy for the occasion.
Footage shared with Reuters through WhatsApp showed people – some in fatigues and others in civilian clothes – lying in pools of blood in a large courtyard.
Some of the bodies were smouldering and others were still on fire. Amid the screaming, someone could be heard shouting “put him out!” A spray of gunfire could be heard in the background.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 100 people were killed and 125 injured. The source in the alliance backing Syria’s government said the toll was about 100.
Syria’s conflict began with protests against the president, Bashar al-Assad, in 2011 but spiralled into an all-out war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.
The Syrian army has been gutted by the fighting, and relied heavily on military support from Russia and Iran as well as Tehran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and other countries.
Assad regained most of the country, but a swathe in the north bordering Turkey is still held by armed opposition groups, including hardline jihadist fighters.