Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for a double suicide bombing that killed 43 and wounded more than 239 in a residential suburb in southern Beirut on Thursday.
The attack on the predominantly Shia district of Burj al-Batajneh, the home of the Islamist Hezbollah movement, was the first suicide terrorist attack in Lebanon since January and the deadliest in 25 years.
According to a statement allegedly posted on social media by the Sunni jihadist group, the first bomber and member of the “Soldiers of the Caliphate” set off explosives strapped to a motorcycle, while the second bomber detonated his suicide vest 50 metres away in the path of those fleeing the first blast.
“After the apostates gathered in the area, one of the knights of martyrdom detonated his explosive belt in the midst of them,” it announced.
A Beirut police officer told the Associated Press that the first explosion took place outside a Shia mosque after sunset prayers at about 6pm (local time) and the second occurred within minutes in a nearby bakery.
“I was standing outside my store with my friend when the first explosion happened,” an injured resident told Al Jazeera. “He was martyred in the explosion. As I was trying to move him, the second explosion happened,” he said.
A third suicide bomber was found dead in close proximity, apparently a victim of the second blast, with his legs blown off and explosive belt still intact.
The IS statement said the attack was aimed at Shi’ite Muslims. The three bombers were identified as two Palestinians and a Syrian. The IS claim of responsibilty has not yet been verified.
The military and political Hezbollah organisation has a strong influence in southern Beirut and had been the target of a string of deadly explosions in 2014 by IS militants for sending fighters to Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Most recently, Hezbollah announced it was planning on intervening in Syria once again alongside forces loyal to President Assad. That may have provoked Thursday’s suicide attacks.
“They targeted civilians, worshippers, women and the elderly. It only targeted those innocent people. This is a Satanic, terrorist act,” Hezbollah MP Bilal Farhat told the Associated Press. “What happened here is a crime … this battle against terrorists will continue and it is a long war between us.”
Kamel Wazne, a Lebanese political analyst, told Al Jazeera: “This is probably just to remind Hezbollah there are other [groups] who can take revenge … It might be, again, the beginning of a circle of violence for Beirut.”
Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, condemned what he described as “a cowardly criminal act that can never be justified” and called on Lebanese citizens to be watchful.
Mr Salam has declared Friday a national day of mourning. – Matina Moutzouris
Top screenshot of the aftermath of the Beirut bombing from ABC News 24.