DAMASCUS, Syria — Two car bombers blew themselves up Friday outside the heavily guarded compounds of Syria's intelligence agencies, killing at least 44 people and wounding dozens more in a brazen attack on the powerful security directorates, authorities said.
State-run TV said the al-Qaida terrorist network was possibly to blame for the first suicide car bombings in the nine-month uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad.
The opposition, however, immediately questioned the government's account and hinted the regime itself could have been behind the attack, noting it came during a visit by Arab League observers investigating Assad's bloody crackdown of the popular revolt.
The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria this year is not an uprising but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.
Syrian officials said a suicide attacker detonated his explosives-laden car as he waited behind a vehicle driven by a retired general who was trying to enter a military intelligence building in Damascus' upscale Kfar Sousa district. About a minute later, a second attacker blew up his SUV at the gate of the General Intelligence Agency, the officials said.
Government officials took the Arab League observers to the scene of the explosions and said it supported their accounts of who was behind the violence.
"We said it from the beginning, this is terrorism. They are killing the army and civilians," Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad told reporters outside the headquarters of the General Intelligence Agency, where bodies still littered the ground.
Such attacks are rare in Syria, although security agencies have been targeted in the past.