Lebanon: Twin Suicide Bombing Kills Nine in Tripoli's Jabal Mohsen

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Lebanese security forces and emergency personnel gather outside a cafe targeted by a suicide bombing on January 10, 2015 in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood of the northern city of Tripoli.AFP/Ibrahim Chalhoub

Published Sunday, January 11, 2015

Two Lebanese suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded cafe in the neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli Saturday night, killing nine civilians and wounding 37 others.

A security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP: "The first suicide bomber entered into the Ashqar cafe at around 7:30 pm (5:30 GMT) and blew himself up.Then, a second suicide attacker arrived, and blew himself up too.”

The Ministry of Health said in a statement that "nine people were killed and 37 others wounded.”

Al-Qaeda's Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for the attack in the majority Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen via Twitter.

"#Al-Nusra Front: a cafe belonging to the Alawite Arab Democratic Party in Jabal Mohsen was targeted with a double martyrdom attack, to avenge the Sunnis in Syria and Lebanon," read the tweet.

The Arab Democratic Party is the main group representing the Alawite minority in Lebanon.

A Nusra commander, talking to Anadolu news agency, identified the two suicide bombers as Taha Samir al-Khayal and Bilal Mohammed al-Mareyan, known as Ibrahim.

According to the commander, the two militant were trained by Nusra in the Syrian region of Qalamoun on the border with Lebanon, adding that the attack on the cafe was in retaliation for the alleged campaign carried out by “Alawites against Sunnis in Syria.”

He said Nusra would issue a statement later “to clarify the details of the operation.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese army confirmed in a statement the identities of the bombers.

"Preliminary investigation revealed that the terrorist attack was carried out by two suicide bombers: Taha al-Khayal, 22, and Bilal al-Mariyan, 29. The attackers used suicide vests with 4kgs of TNT in each one of them,” the statement read.

A man who was lightly wounded said he was at the targeted cafe, which is on a street dividing Jabal Mohsen from the district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, when the attackers struck.

"I was at the cafe with other people, when we suddenly heard a first blast," Zuheir al-Sheikh said.

"Then we heard a huge blast, though I have no idea what caused it," he added.

The Lebanese Army Forces (LAF) heightened security measures in the aftermath of the twin suicide bombing, the first breach to a security plan implemented in June last year following years of unrest between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Lebanon's second city Tripoli has seen frequent violence pitting gunmen from Jabal Mohsen and neighbouring Bab al-Tebbaneh against each other.

Fighting between the two districts in recent years killed scores of people, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

The LAF also cordoned off the homes of Khayal, in the Roummanah neighborhood, and Mariyan, in the Mankoubeen neighborhood, only 500 meters away from Jabal Mohsen.

Security sources told Anadolu that both gunmen had not been out of sight since October and were thought to be in Syria.

Furthermore, the army has been conducting raids in different neighborhoods in Tripoli, searching for two suspects who are also wanted over attacks on military posts in the city.
The two militants are also Lebanese and have received their training in the mountainous region of Syria's Qalamoun on the border with Lebanon.
Lebanon's security has been repeatedly jolted by the Syrian crisis, which has also helped paralyze its government: the country has been without a head of state since May.

Tripoli has historically been a bastion for Islamist groups, making it a concern for Lebanese security agencies that have warned of plans by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Nusra to destabilize the country.

Militants linked to ISIS and Nusra mounted an attack on the Lebanese border town of Ersal last August. They are still holding 25 members of the Lebanese security forces taken captive in that incursion, after they executed four others.

Since October, the army has deployed heavily in Tripoli, detaining hundreds of people in an attempt to stem the violence.

On August 23, 2013, bomb attacks struck two mosques in Tripoli, killing and wounding dozens of people.

Calls for unity

Lebanese politicians and movements were quick to condemn the bombing, branding it a terrorist act and calling for unity.

"This crime will not terrorize the Lebanese or the residents of Tripoli, and it will not weaken the government's resolve to confront terrorism and terrorists," Prime Minister Tammam Salam said in a statement.

Hezbollah resistance movement blamed “takfiri” (extremist) terrorists for carrying out the attack, in a reference to radical Islamists.

“Takfiri ideology targets all of us indiscriminately,” Hezbollah said in a statement, adding that the attack denoted that “takfiris” were irritated by the ongoing dialogue between the various Lebanese political factions, including the Hezbollah-Future Movement talks.

The resistance movement also called on all Lebanese to “alienate” the terrorist groups and throw their weight behind the Lebanese army, saying all means should be employed to eradicate terrorism.

Moreover, Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, head of the Future Movement, also condemned the attack.

"This terrorist act is part of a campaign to sow chaos and division, and to destabilize (Tripoli) after the Lebanese army and security forces managed to stop the cycles of violence," Hariri said in a statement.

For his part, Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblatt denounced the attack and called on the residents of Tripoli to “stand united” against terrorism.

(AFP, Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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