[Bystanders walk past the scene of a deadly explosion in the southern Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hassan on February 19, 2014. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)]
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for a twin suicide car bomb attack which killed at least five people near an Iranian cultural center in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Wednesday morning.
The Lebanese National News Agency reported that the 9:20 am explosion appeared to have been caused by two car bombs, although previous reports had spoken of a car bomb and a motorcycle laden with explosives.
The Minister of Health Wael Abu Faour stated that six people were killed and 129 wounded by the blast, el-Nashra reported. The casualties were taken to the Rafik Hariri University, Zahra, Sahel and the Rasoul al-Aazam hospitals.
Security forces were interrogating four people regarding the stolen vehicles used in the blast, LBC reported.
A corporal from the Internal Security Forces, identified as Mohammed Dandash, was among the dead.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group which had previously claimed a deadly November bombing at the Iranian embassy in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the attack via its Twitter account and by Youtube video.
Our brothers from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, god bless them, carried out a double martyrdom operation against the Iranian chancellery in Beirut.
The militant group said they were targeting the Iranian cultural chancellery, and demanded an end to Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, as well as the release of all of its members from Lebanese prisons.
Abdullah Azzam commander Naim Abbas was arrested by the Lebanese army last week, and his capture has led security forces to locate and dismantle several car bombs.
Military court judge Saqr Saqr said the first suicide bomber drove a car containing around 90 kilograms of explosives, while the second vehicle carried around 75 kilograms. The cars were a BMW and a Mercedes, both stolen, the NNA reported.
A fake driving license in the name of Moukhtar Houssam Hallak was found at the first blast scene, an NNA correspondent said.
One of the explosions took place next to an orphanage. About 11 children and one teacher were injured in the playground, the orphanage said.
News channel MTV reported that security forces had found an unexploded car bomb in the vicinity of the explosion, and were working on dismantling it.
The explosion took place in the neighborhood of Bir Hassan, at a roundabout in the vicinity of the Kuwaiti embassy as well as the Iranian cultural chancellery, the NNA reported. Both the Iranian and Kuwaiti organizations confirmed that none of its staff had been hurt.
[The scene of the blast. (Photo: Nour Samaha)]
One witness said she had seen a plume of smoke rising in the area. Beirut’s firefighting department told VDL that the fire caused by the explosion had been extinguished.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces cordoned off the area, and emergency medical personnel were already on the scene, the NNA added. Newly minted Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq was also on the scene.
“I found pieces of human flesh on my face”
One witness, told Al-Akhbar that Wednesday’s blast was the third explosion he has witnessed.
“I heard the two explosions immediately,” Issam Safewi said, adding that the glass in his building was completely shattered. “I ran onto the street and saw pieces of flesh scattered across the road. There was an entire arm on the street.”
“What they’re doing is a shame,” he added, referring to the persons orchestrating the explosions. “These takfiris, they don’t have any religion, they are not Muslim….We are used to this, we are not scared of death.”
Abbas Hammoud and his wife Sabah felt the explosions as they were drinking their morning coffee. Panicked because the explosions were much stronger than previous ones they had felt, they ran to the site of the explosion, fearing for their son who works nearby.
“I was crying, I can’t feel my arms, I couldn’t speak,” Sabah said. “We still can’t reach our son, but we’re hoping and praying he is alive.”
“I have a message to those dogs who are defending the likes of Omar Atrash,” Abbas said. “Look at what they are doing to their Lebanon. This is not a ‘Shia’ area – this is an area where there are Sunnis, Druze, Christians, foreigners, everyone. They want to defend the person who does this?”
Pointing at the army personnel, members of the Red Cross, and civilians scattered in the area, he added: “Are these people all Hezbollah?”
Omar Atrash is a radical sheikh who has been detained and charged over two January bombings in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
“I was driving my car with my wife to the university when we were hit by the force of the blast and I found pieces of human flesh on my face,” Yousef al-Tawil, a professor at the Lebanese University, told AFP.
The NNA released a list of confirmed names of the dead and wounded that were taken to nearby hospitals. Two young injured girls are currently unidentified in the Zahra hospital.
“No salvation except through unswerving solidarity”
The National Committee for Disaster Risk Management convened on Wednesday to discuss the situation, following instructions from Prime Minister Tammam Salam to adopt “necessary measures” to help those affected by the bombing.
“There is no salvation from this terrorist criminality except through unswerving solidarity, regardless of posts and political affiliations, because terrorism does not differentiate between regions or even religions. It only serves carnage and destruction,” Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for Lebanese “unity and cooperation” in the wake of the attack.
“If the aim of this terrorist attack is to tell the Lebanese that Lebanon will not be safe from terrorism after the formation of the government, we emphasize more than ever before the unity of the Lebanese stance against terrorism and against all the suspicious and condemned attempts to provoke discord and obstruct the ongoing efforts to protect stability,” former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a statement.
Hariri’s Future movement also blamed Hezbollah’s presence in Syria for the bombings in Lebanon.
After an inspection at the Rafik Hariri Hospital, Minister of Public Health Wael Abu Faour said “it is as though the gates of hell opened on Lebanon and explosions have become its daily bread.”
Iran’s foreign ministry denounced the bombing, saying the perpetrators ” are agents of the Zionist (Israeli) regime who have been frustrated by the formation of a new government that includes all parties and tribes in Lebanon.”
“There is no doubt that perpetrators of this terrorist act are the enemies of stability, security and unity of Lebanon,” ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham added in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi also condemned the Bir Hassan attack, saying that “the countries supporting, sponsoring and funding terrorism, with money and weapons, are responsible for the blasts that rocked Bir Hassan and other terrorist acts that constitute a source of concern over the instability of Lebanon, Syria and the region in general.”
Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan said the Bir Hassan bombing was a “clear indication” that militant attacks were targeting all of Lebanon.
“All the Lebanese are being targeted in their institutions, their lives, their stability and their sovereignty,” he said. “This is why we call for national dialogue and deep and acceptance of the other. We urged for everyone’s participation in the re-formulation of the concept of a homeland free of sectarianism and narrow partisan policies and profit-sharing.”
Beirut’s southern suburbs have been the target of several bomb attacks since July.
Bombings have occurred on a near-weekly basis in Lebanon since late December.
(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)