Two suicide bombings rocked Iran’s embassy compound in Beirut on Tuesday,
killing at least 23 people and hurling bodies and burning wreckage across a
An Iranian cultural attaché was among the
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based al- Qaida-linked
group, claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks unless Iran
withdrew its forces from Syria, where they have joined President Bashar Assad’s
war against mostly Sunni rebels.
Security camera footage showed a man
wearing an explosives belt rushing toward the outer wall of the embassy before
blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. A car bomb parked two buildings
away from the compound caused the second, deadlier explosion, they
The Lebanese army, however, said both blasts had been suicide
In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious
guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said his group had carried out the
“It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes
of Lebanon,” he wrote.
Lebanon has suffered a series of sectarian clashes
and bomb attacks, on both Sunni and Shi’ite targets, that have been linked to
the Syrian conflict and that have already killed scores of people this
Tuesday’s bombing took place on the eve of more talks between world
powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The bombs also struck as
Assad’s forces extended their military gains in Syria before peace talks that
the United Nations hopes to convene in mid-December and that Iran says it is
ready to attend.
Shi’ite Iran actively supports Assad, and two of its
Revolutionary Guard commanders have been killed in Syria this year. Along with
fighters from the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, Iran has helped to turn
the tide in Assad’s favor at the expense of rebels backed and armed by Sunni
powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
A Reuters cameraman at the scene counted
six bodies outside one entrance to the embassy compound. Body parts were strewn
as far as two streets away, and several cars were badly damaged.
embassy’s sturdy metal gate was twisted by the blasts, which Lebanese Health
Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said had killed 23 people and wounded
Iran’s IRNA news agency quoted an Iranian Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman as saying the bombs were “an inhuman and vicious act perpetrated by
Israel and its terror agents.”
Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi
said that “whoever carries out such an attack in these sensitive circumstances,
from whichever faction, knows directly or indirectly that he is serving the
interests of the Zionist entity.”
However, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi
unequivocally rejected the claims.
Speaking to reporters at an Israel
Project briefing focused on the Iranian nuclear talks, Hanegbi said it was
“humoristic” that a country that had perpetuated terrorism around the world was
now blaming others.
“We are blamed for anything that happens in the
Sometimes these are things we take responsibility for
because they have to do with Israel’s security. But Israel’s security gains
nothing by bloodshed in Beirut or in any Arab capital or state, and [Tuesday’s
terrorism] is the result of tension in Lebanon following the decision of
Hezbollah – or Iran forcing Hezbollah – to participate in Assad’s effort to
survive in Syria,” he said.
Israel has nothing to with this attack or any
recent bomb attacks in Lebanon, he stated.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of
State John Kerry condemned the bombings as “senseless and despicable
“The United States knows too well the cost of terrorism
directed at our own diplomats around the world, and our hearts go out to the
Iranian people after this violent and unjustifiable attack claimed the life of
at least one of their diplomats,” Kerry said.
The timing of the overture
to Iran – a day before talks were to resume in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear
program – was the subject of questions from journalists at the daily State
Department press briefing with spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“I think this was
just obviously a tragic event that was important to condemn, and send that
strong message,” Psaki said, adding that the US position on Iran being the
world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism “has not changed.”
Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks as well, extending
his condolences to the governments of Iran and Lebanon and calling for
“The secretary-general calls on all in Lebanon to
recognize that such appalling and indiscriminate acts of violence target all in
Lebanon,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement. “He urges all Lebanese parties to
act with restraint and to support the institutions of the state, and
particularly the security forces, as they seek to prevent further acts of
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned what he
described as a “shocking terrorist attack,” and France expressed “solidarity
with the Lebanese and Iranian authorities.”
Politicians from across
Lebanon’s Sunni, Shi’ite and Christian communities condemned the
Meanwhile, in Syria, the government said its soldiers had taken
full control of the town of Qara, which straddles a highway from Damascus to
government strongholds on the coast and which Sunni rebels used to cross into
Syria from Lebanon.
The fall of Qara may mark the start of a wider
offensive by the army, which has had backing from Hezbollah and Shi’ite fighters
from Iraq, to recapture the mountainous border region of Qalamoun and
consolidate Assad’s control of territory around Damascus and close to the
Hezbollah’s military role in Syria has helped to inflame
sectarian tension there and in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Sunnis back the Syrian
rebels, while many Shi’ites support Assad.
Ayham Kamel, a Middle East
analyst with the Eurasia Group, said the embassy bombing was an attempt by
supporters of the Sunni rebels to weaken Hezbollah’s and Iran’s support for
Assad, undermine the Qalamoun campaign and possibly pressure Tehran before
Wednesday’s nuclear talks.
“While sectarian tensions in Lebanon will
increase, Hezbollah’s retaliatory response will be centered on Syria, where [it]
will further commit military forces to eliminate the Sunni rebel threat along
the Syrian-Lebanese borders,” Kamel said.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has
strong links in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, as well as connections with
the Gulf. Two of its senior military leaders are Saudi nationals, said Charles
Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center.
attack is a significant escalation. After months and months of speculation, an
al- Qaida-linked group has now underlined its involvement in the Syria-related
Lebanese theater,” he said.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi
implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting Sunni terrorists, who
have been blamed for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.
from local news channels showed charred bodies on the ground as flames rose from
stricken vehicles. Emergency workers and residents carried victims away in
“These kinds of explosions are a new and dangerous
development,” said the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc in Lebanon,
Earlier this year, three explosions hit Southern Beirut
Hezbollah stronghold. Those attacks, blamed on groups linked to the Syrian
rebels, are believed to have been in retaliation for the group’s military role
Three decades ago, Iranian backed Shi’ite terrorists carried out
devastating suicide bombings in Lebanon that hit the US Embassy as well as US,
French and Israeli military bases.