November 19, 2013

Suicide bombings at Iran Embassy in Beirut kill 23

The explosions take place in a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, a main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

By Diaa Hadid And Hussein Malla
The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Suicide bombers struck the Iranian Embassy on Tuesday, killing 23 people, including a diplomat, and wounding more than 140 others in a “message of blood and death” to Tehran and Hezbollah — both supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

click image to enlarge

Lebanese men run to remove dead bodies from burned cars, at the scene where two explosions have struck near the Iranian Embassy killing several, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday Nov. 19, 2013. The blasts in south Beirut’s neighborhood of Janah also caused extensive damage on the nearby buildings and the Iranian mission. The area is a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group, which is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war next door. It’s not clear if the blasts are related to Syria’s civil war.

AP Photo/Hussein Malla

click image to enlarge

Lebanese people, gather around two dead bodies at the scene where two explosions have struck near the Iranian Embassy killing many, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. The blasts in south Beirut’s neighborhood of Janah also caused extensive damage on the nearby buildings and the Iranian mission. The area is a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group, which is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war next door. It’s not clear if the blasts are related to Syria’s civil war.

AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

The double bombing in a Shiite district of Beirut pulled Lebanon further into a conflict that has torn apart the deeply divided country, and came as Assad’s troops, aided by Hezbollah militants, captured a key town near the Lebanese border from rebels.

The bombing was one of the deadliest in a series of attacks targeting Hezbollah and Shiite strongholds in Lebanon in recent months.

An al-Qaida-linked group said it carried out the attack as payback for Hezbollah’s backing of Assad forces against the mainly Sunni rebels as the Syrian civil war increasingly becomes a confrontation between regional powers.

The Syrian army’s border offensive is part of a larger government push that started last month and has seen forces loyal to Assad firmly seizing the momentum in the war, taking one rebel stronghold after another.

The attacks raised fears in Lebanon that Islamic extremists, now on the defensive in Syria, would increasingly hit back in Lebanon. The country is suffering the effects of competing sectarian loyalties.

“People fight outside (Lebanon), but send their messages through Lebanon. With bombs,” said a mechanic whose store windows were shattered by the blasts.

The midmorning explosions hit the neighborhood of Janah, a Hezbollah stronghold and home to several embassies and upscale apartments, leaving bodies and pools of blood on the glass-strewn street amid burning cars.

In the chaotic aftermath, volunteers tried to extinguish bodies still aflame from the blast by covering them with their sweaters and blankets.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and called on all Lebanese to recognize that “such appalling and indiscriminate acts of violence” target everyone in the country, U.N. acting deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the bombings “senseless and despicable,” and said “our hearts go out to the Iranian people after this violent and unjustifiable attack claimed the life of at least one of their diplomats.

The dead Iranian was identified as Ibrahim Ansari, a 54-year-old diplomat who took up his post a month ago and was overseeing regional cultural activities, said Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi, speaking to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV from inside the embassy compound.

Also among the dead was Radwan Fares, a Lebanese national who headed the facility’s security, according to a Lebanese official at the embassy who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.

The first suicide attacker was on a motorcycle with two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of explosives and blew himself up at the embassy’s black main gate, damaging the three-story facility, another Lebanese security official said. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Less than two minutes later, a second suicide attacker driving a car rigged with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives struck about 10 meters (yards) away, the official added.

Previous large-scale attacks on Hezbollah strongholds include an Aug. 15 car bombing in the southern Beirut suburbs that killed 27 people and wounded more than 300. A less powerful car bomb targeted the same area July 9, wounding more than 50.

Senior Hezbollah official Mahmoud Komati said at the scene that the attacks were a direct result of the “successive defeats suffered by (extremists) in Syria.”

He described the blasts as a “message of blood and death” to Iran and Hezbollah for standing by Syria, vowing they would not alter their position.

(Continued on page 2)

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