DAMASCUS, Syria — A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives near a building manned by paramilitary forces in a mainly Kurdish town in northeastern Syria Friday, killing at least five people, according to the state news agency and activists.
The blast in Qamishli comes as clashes between Kurdish gunmen and Islamic militant groups led by the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have left hundreds of people dead in recent months.
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people. They are centered in the impoverished northeastern province of Hassakeh, wedged between the borders of Turkey and Iraq. The capital Damascus and Syria's largest city, Aleppo, also have several predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods.
Assad's forces largely pulled out of the region late last year when the Syrian military was stretched thin by fighting with rebels elsewhere in the country, effectively ceding control of the area, though they maintain some security posts. Their withdrawal sparked a fierce competition between rebels — mainly Islamic militant factions — and the Kurds.
Kurdish gunmen have been able over the past few months to drive out Islamic militant fighters allied to the rebellion from most of their areas in northeastern Syria. Last months, Kurds declared their own civil administration in areas under their control.
Syria's state news agency SANA said the explosion occurred on a crowded street in Qamishli, which is in Hassakeh, killing six people and wounding 30.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said the attack targeted a building manned by pro-government gunmen known as National Defense Forces. It said the blast killed at least five and wounded 10.
The Observatory said it is not clear if the dead were members of the National Defense Forces.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.