Several killed in explosion in Beirut suburb

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Lebanese emergency personnel extinguish a burning car the site of a car bomb that targeted Beirut's southern suburb of Haret Hreik on January 2, 2014. (Photo: AFP - STR)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Updated 10:30 pm: An apparent suicide bomber detonated a car rigged with explosives in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday, killing at least four people and injuring 77, Lebanon's national news agency said.

The health ministry released a statement saying a further 67 people were treated in hospitals for minor wounds and released, while 10 people remained hospitalized for severe injuries.

Thursday's explosion, the fourth such bombing in Beirut's southern suburbs known as Dahiyeh since July 2013, took place on al-Arid Street in the neighborhood of Haret Hreik. The attack appeared to target civilians in the densely populated neighborhood packed with shops, clothing stores and restaurants.

No one has claimed responsibility for the explosion, but previous attacks were believed to have been carried out by al-Qaeda-linked groups or groups with ties to the Islamist rebels fighting in Syria.

Residents of the southern suburbs overwhelmingly support the powerful Hezbollah movement, which has been repeatedly threatened and targeted by Islamist rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.

The attacks began after Hezbollah intervened in the neighboring conflict last year on the side of government forces. Rebels have vowed to continue striking Lebanon until the movement withdraws its troops.

The explosion came six days after a massive car bomb killed former finance Minister Mohammed Shatah and seven others in downtown Beirut. There is no clear connection between the two bombings.

Officials at the Bahman Hospital said they recovered the remains of who is believed to be a suicide bomber.

"The target is clear. It's the [Lebanese] people. This type of terrorism attacks all parts of Lebanon, no matter their political orientation...The target is Lebanon, all of Lebanon," Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah told Al Jadeed televeion.

"We're not going to blame anyone yet. We have to wait for the investigation. But whoever was behind the explosion that killed Mohammed Shatah, and whoever did this, we put them in the same category. These are terrorist acts," MP Bilal Farhat, also from Hezbollah, told television reporters from the site of the blast.

A man walks over glass near the site of a deadly blast in Haret Hreik in the southern suburbs of Beirut on January 2, 2014. (Photo: Al-Akhbar - Marc Abizeid)

The explosion damaged at least six buildings, reduced cars to twisted metal and shattered windows.

"I was at home playing on Facebook when I heard a loud thump. It didn't sound like a bomb. I thought someone had banged on the wall," a teenager told Al-Akhbar near the scene of the blast.

He said his home was about 800 meters from the explosion and that he rushed to the area to check on his father who works at an office near the explosion.

Initial reports stated the blast occurred more than a hundred meters from Hezbollah's political bureau, as well as the old Al Manar television building. Sources in Hezbollah said none of its party members were targeted in the explosion.

Security forces pleaded with the hundreds of residents who swarmed the area surrounding the explosion to return to their homes to make way for emergency vehicles. Some troops fired weapons into the air to disperse the crowd, sending a stampede of spectators fleeing.

TV footage showed a young man sobbing outside a hospital as he searched for his teenage cousin, Ali Hassan Khadra.

"We went to all the hospitals looking for him. No one knows anything about him," the man said as the TV reporter held up a picture of the missing boy on his phone.

Lebanon's National News Agency later reported that the boy was killed in the blast.

The Lebanese army said a preliminary probe indicated a 20 kilogram bomb was used in the explosion. The vehicle driven by the suspected suicide bomber was identified as an olive green Jeep Grand Cherokee, license plate number 341580 G.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati denounced the bombing in a statement issued by his press office.

"The attack of the southern neighborhood of Beirut, only days after the terrorist explosion that killed the former minister Mohammed Shattah and others, proves once again that the hands of terrorism does not differ between any Lebanese, and does not want this country to progress," Mikati said.

"From this standpoint, we urge everyone to maintain reason, more so now than anytime before, and to cooperate politically and end confrontation so that we can all meet and discuss to escape this major danger," he added.

Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel told Al Jadeed, "We cannot speak about a security failure. There seems to be a bombing every week and we are trying to deal with it as best as we can. As much as we are attempting to provide security, Lebanon is facing big threats."

__title__Residents gather near the site of the blast in Haret Hreik on January 2, 2014. (Photo: Al-Akhbar - Marc Abizeid)

Thursday's explosion was the fifth to hit Lebanon's capital and its southern suburbs since July 9, when a car bomb wounded 53 people in Dahiyeh's Bir al-Abed neighborhood.

On August 15 a massive car bomb exploded on a busy public road between the neighborhoods of Roueiss and Bir Abed in the southern suburbs, killing 27 people wounding more than 100.

A week later, on August 23, twin explosions killed at least 43 people outside two mosques in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli.

At least 23 people were killed when two suicide bombers detonated themselves outside the Iranian embassy in the southern suburb of Beirut.

And last Friday a massive car bomb killed eight in downtown Beirut, among them, Shatah, who was the first political figure to be assassinated since an October 2012 blast killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut's Ashrafieh district.


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