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In fallout from war next door, blasts target Sunnis in Tripoli

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 7:09 p.m.
A man recites prayers amid the destruction after a car bomb outside the Al-Taqwa mosque in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. The twin car bombs, which killed dozens hit amid soaring tensions in Lebanon as a result of Syria's civil war, which has sharply polarized the country along sectarian lines and between supporters and opponents of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It was the second such bombing in just over a week, showing the degree to which the tiny country is being consumed by the raging war next door. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS Smoke is seen above people gathering outside a mosque on the site of a powerful explosion in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on August 23, 2013. Two powerful explosions killed several people: one rocked the city centre near the home of outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the second one struck near the port of the restive city with a Sunni Muslim majority. The explosions come a week after a suicide car bombing killed 27 people in a Beirut stronghold of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Assad's forces. AFP PHOTO IBRAHIM CHALHOUB IBRAHIM CHALHOUB/AFP/Getty Images

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — In scenes reminiscent of Lebanon's devastating civil war, charred bodies lay in the streets Friday after twin car bombs exploded outside mosques packed with worshippers, killing 29 people and wounding hundreds.

The coordinated attacks in this predominantly Sunni city — the deadliest fallout from Syria's civil war to hit Lebanon — raised sectarian tensions to dangerous levels amid fears the country was slipping into a cycle of revenge.

The blasts marked the second such attack in over a week. A deadly car bombing targeted an overwhelmingly Shiite district south of Beirut controlled by the militant Hezbollah group on Aug. 15.

The attacks on Friday shocked residents of Tripoli, which has been the scene of frequent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad in recent months. But the city, Lebanon's second-largest, has not seen such bombings in decades.

The blasts were clearly intended to cause maximum civilian casualties. The two explosions went off about five minutes apart.

“Lebanon has officially entered the regional war which has been raging in Syria and Iraq,” said Randa Slim, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

“There are serious fears that the country has entered a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat explosions and car bombs. A dynamic of violence and reprisals, once set in, is hard to reverse,” she said.

Local TV stations aired shocking footage. In one video, apparently recorded by a closed-circuit television camera in the area, scores of terrified worshippers were seen spilling out of one of the mosques in a crushing stampede immediately after the explosion struck.

In the chaotic aftermath, bearded gunmen took to the streets of Tripoli, firing in the air, attacking soldiers and sealing off the two mosques where the car bombs went off. Later, they roamed the streets in SUVs, weapons sticking out of the windows.

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