x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Beirut bombs kill four near Kuwaiti embassy

The twin bombing in southern Beirut targeted an Iranian cultural centre and was claimed by the Al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Lebanese men carry an wounded man at the site of an explosion, near the Kuwaiti Embassy and Iran's cultural centre, in the suburb of Beir Hassan, Beirut, Lebanon.

 AP Photo
Lebanese men carry an wounded man at the site of an explosion, near the Kuwaiti Embassy and Iran's cultural centre, in the suburb of Beir Hassan, Beirut, Lebanon. AP Photo

BEIRUT // A double suicide car bombing targeted an Iranian cultural centre in Beirut yesterday, killing at least four people and wounding more than 100.

The attack, the latest linked to Syria’s civil war across the border, was quickly claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a militant group inspired by Al Qaeda.

Militants have carried out a string of attacks in Lebanon targeting both Iran and the Shiite Hizbollah movement, which provide vital support to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s regime as it battles a Sunni-led rebellion.

The explosions sent a large plume of smoke over the area, which is also near the Kuwait Embassy, and caused widespread damage.

Mangled metal hung from a smashed building that once held a pharmacy, clothing shop and a well-known Oriental sweet shop, Gondoline. Smeared blood and tattered clothes dried on the ground and the charred remains of six cars were at the site of the two bombs.

“I am trying to reserve the first ticket back to Canada,” said Sam Hasna, 45, a Lebanese-Canadian citizen, owner of the Gondoline, after years of building a life for himself and his son in Lebanon. “We tried, we tried, we tried.”

Mr Hasna’s foot was injured and he was in shock. He returned to the bomb site to discover one employee had been killed and another was in a critical condition.

“I thought it was an earthquake. Everything was on fire, the whole store had crashed down. I saw shattered people, shattered cars, and I collapsed. Then I woke up in hospital.”

The explosions came a few days after the prime minister, Tammam Salam, formed a new cabinet to end almost 11 months of paralysis. He said that the attack was “a message by forces of terrorism to continue in their plan to spread death in Lebanon”.

“We got the message and we will respond to it with solidarity and our commitment to peace,” he said.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades said the “invasion of the Iranian cultural centre” was in “retaliation for Iran’s party fighting along the criminal regime in Syria”. It was referring to Hizbollah, which has been a staunch ally of Mr Al Assad’s government and its fighters have been instrumental in helping dislodge Syrian rebels from key areas near the border with Lebanon.

“We will continue to target Iran and its party in Lebanon through their security, political and military offices” until Hizbollah fighters withdraw from Syria and scores of Islamic detainees are released from Lebanese jails.

It said Hizbollah will not “enjoy security in Lebanon until the people of Syria feel secure”.

The Hizbollah legislator Ali Ammar, speaking from the site of the blasts, said the group “will not withdraw from a strategic battle that aims to foil plans to divide the region”.

Iran condemned the attack and blamed Israel.

Lebanese troops recently detained an alleged mastermind of similar attacks. Officials said he led them to several vehicles rigged with explosives.

One of the deadliest attacks occurred in November when two suicide attackers blew themselves outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 23 people and wounded dozens. That attack was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

The group’s leader was captured by Lebanese authorities in December and died in custody later in the month.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse