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Raqqa suicide car bomb attack kills 10 in northern Syria

Explosion claims five civilians and five soldiers of SDF, the Kurdish-Arab US-backed alliance that took city from IS in 2017
Children play amid debris in northern Syrian city of Raqqa last month (AFP)

Ten people were killed and 20 wounded on Saturday in a suicide car bomb attack in Raqqa, a former stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) group in northern Syria, a rights watchdog said.

The explosion claimed the lives of five civilians and five soldiers of the Syrian Democratic Forces  (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by Washington that wrested the city from IS in October 2017, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The incident underlines the continued threat of IS sleeper cells in northeastern Syria, according to Kurdistan24’s website.

The attack, for which no one has claimed responsibility, was preceded by a bomb explosion that left several people wounded in another part of the city frequently targeted by IS, the UK-based Observatory said.

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The explosion took place at al-Naim square, where IS had carried out beheadings when it was in control of the city. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP: "The car bomb attack was targeting an SDF position."

"The SDF is in a difficult phase of stabilisation because it has multiple enemies - be they IS [or] the Assad regime and its allies, especially Iran and Turkey," Nicholas A Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, told Kurdistan24.

"Raqqa is a vulnerable location because it is a large area where there are a lot of people moving into and out of the city."

According to Heras, this means the SDF's enemies have more opportunities to place their operatives in Raqqa and carry out attacks.

Heras said Raqqa is also a high-value target because the US-led coalition has made it a model for how to rebuild in the aftermath of IS.

On 9 April, a double bombing claimed by IS killed 13 people, mostly civilians, in the group's former bastion.

IS militants seized large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014, declaring a "caliphate" in areas it controlled. Several offensives with US-led coalition backing chipped away at the "caliphate" until it was declared eliminated on 23 March.

Ambushes and hit-and-run attacks have continued in both countries, with IS militants still scattered across the Syrian desert.