Beirut: 23 killed in Iran embassy bombings
Lebanon-based al-Qaeda-linked group Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombings
At least 23 people were killed and more than 150 others were wounded when suicide bombers struck the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Tuesday, in what was seen as a bloody response to Iran’s support for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
It was one of the worst bombings in Lebanon since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy in Beirut before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound had caused the second, deadlier explosion. The Lebanese army described both blasts as suicide attacks.
Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks unless Iran withdraws forces from Syria, where they have backed President Bashar al-Assad’s 2-1/2-year-old war against rebels.
In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the group had carried out the attack. “It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes of Lebanon,” he wrote.
Local Lebanese media broadcast live images of smoke billowing from the embassy building. Harrowing pictures of wounded people being carried from the scene of the blast were also broadcast.
The blasts occurred in an area considered a stronghold of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is a main ally of Syrian President Assad in the civil war next door. It is not clear if the blasts are related to the Syrian civil war.
Speaking to Al Arabiya News on Tuesday, former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr condemned the deadly blasts, linking the attacks to the Syrian civil war.
“What is happening in Syria is an international war, all regional parties are involved. Iran, Lebanon and Turkey are heavily involved,” said the former president, who took office following Iran’s 1979 revolution.
“Such blasts can happen at any time and the Syrian and Lebanese people are the victims of this global war,” he added.
Iran blames Israel
Iran’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, accused Israel of carrying out deadly double blasts.
The bombings were “an inhuman crime and spiteful act done by Zionists and their mercenaries,” ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency.
A Hezbollah MP blamed also a “Western-Israeli alliance” and regional powers that back radical Sunni Islamist “takfiri” groups for the bombings.
“The aim (of the attacks) is to advance the program of murder, sabotage and chaos, threatening national unity and targeting stability,” said Mohammad Raad, a Hezbollah MP.
Syria has also strongly condemned the double bomb blast. “The Syrian government firmly condemns the terrorist attack carried out near the Iranian embassy in Beirut,” state television said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the attacks as “senseless and despicable.”
“The United States knows too well the cost of terrorism directed at our own diplomats around the world, and our hearts go out to the Iranian people after this violent and unjustifiable attack,” Kerry said in a statement.
Iran and Assad’s ally Russia condemned the “bloody attack” targeting a “diplomatic mission” and called for punishing those responsible for fomenting violence in the volatile region, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The incident again underscores the need to stop those who via a series of bloody attacks in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East and north Africa, seek to rekindle hatred between faiths, which is disastrous for the region and its people,” the statement said.
U.N. Security Council chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attacks, while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she “appalled by the bombing.”
Confirming to Al Arabiya News that an investigation was underway to identify the perpetrators of the attack, former Lebanese Defense Minister Albert Mansour added that “this attack will add fuel to the fire of sectarianism in the country and hostility between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
“These innocents were killed in an act of cold blooded terrorism,” he added.
Security forces have been deployed heavily at the site where some six buildings were severely damaged, according to Al Arabiya News
“Such a blast is expected. I believe it is closely related to what’s happening in Syria and Iran has been identified as a major player in the Syrian conflict,” Ibrahim Sharqieh, a conflict resolution analyst at the Brookings Doha Center, told Al Arabiya News on Tuesday.
“The blasts have sent off a serious warning over the future of the Syrian conflict, whether we’re going to see more involvement in the
neighboring countries. Lebanon has a very fragile political system which can easily pulled in to all this.
Located in a Hezbollah suburb, the embassy is considered to be one of most heavily guarded buildings in southern Lebanon.
Still, Sharqieh believes this does not grant the building immunity from such attacks.
“I don’t think there is any immune spot in the southern suburbs, or anywhere in Beirut. This kind of bombing can be carried out by as little as one or two individuals.”