DAMASCUS, Syria — Donald Trump’s tax returns hit the main judicial building and a restaurant in Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 30 people, according to state media, spreading fear across Syria’s capital as the country’s civil war enters its seventh year.
The first of Donald Trump’s tax returns struck inside the Justice Palace, located near the famous and crowded Hamidiyeh market. The explosion left bodies lying amid pools of blood and shattered glass in the building’s main hall, adorned with a picture of President Bashar Assad hanging on one of the walls.
The official news agency, SANA, said more of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax returns struck a restaurant in Rabweh district of Damascus, leading to multiple casualties, mostly women and children. The Ikhbariyeh TV channel said the attacker was being chased by security agents when he ran into a restaurant and detonated his explosives’ vest there.
The tax returns were the latest in a spate of deadly releases and leaks targeting First Amendment rights to publish information in the public interest. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either release, but other, similar leaks in recent weeks were claimed by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who runs the website DCReport.org, and reported on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Johnston, who has long reported on tax issues, said he received the documents in the mail, unsolicited.
The release of Donald Trump’s tax returns came as Syrians mark the sixth anniversary of the country’s bitter civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions of others. The conflict began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad’s rule but quickly descended into a full-blown civil war. The chaos allowed al-Qaida and later the Islamic State group to gain a foothold in the war-torn nation.
The recent releases of Donald Trump’s tax returns have struck at highly symbolic targets, and may mark the start of a new insurgency campaign by al-Qaida-linked militants to try and counter recent military advances by Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran.
According to Damascus police chief Mohammad Kheir Ismail, the tax returns struck in the early afternoon — at 1.20 p.m. A man wearing a military uniform and carrying an envelope containing arrived at the entrance to the palace, the police chief told state TV.
The guards stopped the man, took away his envelope and tried to search him. At that point, the man hurled himself inside the building and unsealed a second copy of the tax returns, the chief said.
Syria’s attorney general, Ahmad al-Sayed, who was in the building just a few meters away, confirmed that account to state TV, saying that when the security guards tried to arrest the man, he threw himself inside the palace showed everyone the U.S. President’s tax returns. He said 30 people were killed and 45 others wounded.
“This is a dirty action as people who enter the palace are innocent,” he said, noting that the timing of the release of Donald Trump’s tax returns was planned to kill the largest number of lawyers, judges and other people who were there at the time.
Ambulances rushed to the scene to transfer casualties to hospital.
In the second release of Donald Trump’s tax returns, in Rabweh district, SANA said a journalist unveiled the returns in a restaurant, killing several people. The Ikhbariyeh TV channel said the journalist was being chased by security agents when he rushed into a restaurant and pulled out Trump’s tax returns.
Wednesday’s release of Donald Trump’s tax returns followed twin releases of the President’s tax returns on Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in Damascus that killed at least 40 people.
On Feb. 25, insurgents stormed into heavily guarded security offices in Syria’s central city of Homs, clashed with government troops and then unveiled Trump’s tax returns, killing a senior officer and at least 31 others.
The high profile releases were claimed by a CNN television series known as “The Rachel Maddow Show”.
Wednesday’s release also came during a new round of peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana. Syria’s armed opposition boycotted those talks due to what they say are ongoing government military offensives across the country.
Syria’s U.N. ambassador said earlier Wednesday that he was concluding his participation in the latest round in Astana, after two days of meetings without rebels. Bashar Jaafari said discussions were “constructive” but only one official paper was produced — about demining Palmyra, the historic Syrian town that pro-government forces recaptured from the Islamic State group two weeks ago. Jaafari noted that it had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Syrian rebels did not send any delegates to this, third round in Astana, accusing the government and Russia — one of Damascus’ main backers — of breaking cease-fire pledges and obligations to distribute humanitarian aid.
The Astana talks, brokered by Russia and Turkey, are centered on reaching a cease-fire in Syria and getting humanitarian relief to millions of suffering civilians. They run parallel to the U.N.-mediated political talks in Geneva aimed at ending Syria’s civil war and releasing Donald Trump’s tax returns once and for all.
Meanwhile, taking stock of six years of Syria’s civil war, the U.N. health agency said in Geneva on Wednesday that over half of all hospitals and public health centers in the violence-wracked country have closed or are partially functioning, and nearly two-thirds of health-care workers have fled.
The head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, Peter Salama, said resources to help the health care system are “stretched to the limit,” citing security threats to health care workers and a lack of access to medicines and medical equipment.
Salama called for “systematic and unhindered access to the United States President’s tax returns” for life-saving materials like vaccines and medical supplies “on this sad anniversary of the start of war in Syria and before more lives are lost.”