Bombs at Iranian Embassy in Beirut target Hezbollah; 23 dead
BEIRUT — Suicide bombers struck the Iranian Embassy on Tuesday, killing 23 people, including a diplomat, and wounding more than 140 in a “message of blood and death” to Tehran and Hezbollah — supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The double bombing in a Shiite district of Beirut pulled Lebanon further into a conflict that has torn apart the deeply divided country and occurred as Assad's troops, aided by Hezbollah militants, captured from rebels a key town near the Lebanese border.
The bombing was one of the deadliest in a series of recent attacks targeting Hezbollah and Shiite strongholds in Lebanon.
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 had forces loyal to Assad seizing the momentum, taking one rebel stronghold after another.
The attacks raised fears in Lebanon that Islamic extremists, 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.
In the chaotic aftermath, volunteers tried to extinguish bodies 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.
Secretary of State John Kerry called the bombings “senseless and despicable” and said “our hearts go out to the Iranian people.”
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.
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.
The first suicide attacker was on a motorcycle with more than 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 110 pounds of explosives struck about 10 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.
Shiite Iran is the main Mideast backer of Assad's government, believed to be providing it with key financing and weapons.
A Lebanese al-Qaida-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they would continue until Hezbollah withdraws its forces from Syria.
The authenticity of the claim could not be independently verified. It was posted on a militant website and on the Twitter account of Sirajuddin Zurayqat, a spokesman of the Azzam Brigades.
“It was a double martyrdom operation by two Sunni heroes from Lebanon,” he wrote.
The group is active in southern Lebanon and has issued claims in the past for rocket attacks into northern Israel. It has also claimed a 2010 bombing of a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and a 2005 rocket attack that narrowly missed a U.S. amphibious assault ship docked at Jordan's Aqaba Red Sea resort.
Iran's Foreign Ministry blamed Israel in a phone conversation with his Lebanese counterpart, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed “extremists motivated by foreigners.”
Hezbollah and Syrian officials indirectly blamed Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Arab kingdom that along with fellow Gulf nation Qatar has been a major backer of Syria's rebels.
“Each of the terrorist attacks that strike in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq reek of petrodollars,” a Syrian government statement said, a clear reference to oil-rich Gulf Arab countries.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari accused Saudi Arabia, Israel and Qatar of backing the al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the attack.
Ayham Kamel, an analyst with the Eurasia group in London, said Sunni rebels and their regional supporters “aim to undermine Hezbollah security in its homeland, deter Hezbollah and Iran from aiding the Syrian military, ... and potentially pressure Iran” ahead of this week's nuclear talks in Geneva.
The Saudis have watched with increasing nervousness as President Barack Obama has approved a cautious opening with their archrival Iran, which could reorder strategic priorities.
At the scene of the blasts, blood was puddled on the ground, and debris and tree limbs were scattered over the streets. Associated Press video showed firefighters extinguishing burning vehicles, as well as bodies covered with sheets. A charred motorcycle stood outside the embassy gate.
Rabie Yehya said he and other volunteers grabbed plastic bags from a nearby abandoned plot of land and began filling them with body parts.
“We emptied them and filled them,” he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Iraqi ambassador to U.S.: Global rejection of ISIS crucial
- 500 U.S. troops en route to Nepal with aid
- Yemen city crippled by siege, bombing; civilians isolated
- Mexicans pin hopes on anti-corruption measures approved by Congress
- Ex-Gitmo detainees protest in Uruguay
- 293 rescued in Nigeria are not ‘Chibok girls’
- Pakistan could put nukes on new submarines sold by China
- Military draftees ignore Ukraine’s call to arms
- Aftershocks terrify survivors of quake in Nepal that killed 2,500
- Attack on U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia foiled
- Search-and-rescue spreads to Nepal’s villages