Suicide blasts near Iran Embassy in Beirut kill 23

BEIRUT – Two explosions, at least one caused by a suicide bomber, rocked Iran’s embassy in Lebanon on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people, including an Iranian cultural attaché, and hurling bodies, cars and debris across the street.

Al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.

Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.

In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the group had carried out the attack. 

CULTURAL ATTACHE KILLED

Iran’s ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi said it was clear the attacks targeted his embassy and identified one of the dead as Ebrahim Ansari, a cultural attaché who was on his way to work at the diplomatic compound when the bombs exploded.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said 23 people had been killed and 146 wounded.

“At one entrance of the Iranian embassy I counted six bodies outside,” Reuters television cameraman Issam Abdullah said. “I saw body parts…thrown two streets away. There is huge damage.”

The embassy’s sturdy metal gate was twisted by the blasts.

Fires engulfed cars outside the embassy and the facades of some buildings were torn off. Carpets of shattered glass from nearby buildings covered the bloodied streets and some trees were uprooted, but the embassy’s well-fortified building itself suffered relatively minor damage.

Soldiers in camouflage, firefighters and paramedics all rushed to the scene to evacuate the wounded.

At the scene of the blasts, blood was puddled on the ground, and debris and tree limbs torn off by the blasts were scattered over the streets. AP video showed firefighters extinguishing flames from burning vehicles, blood-spattered streets and bodies covered with sheets on the ground. A charred motorcycle stood outside the embassy gate.

A woman in a black robe and headscarf, unable to stand, clutched a man, pleading with security forces for help.

“Nader,” she wailed, crying out a man’s name. “Nader is missing.” Another man ran from the area, carrying a South Asian migrant worker limp in his arms.

Hezbollah’s Al-Rasoul al-Azam hospital called on people to donate blood, saying they need all blood types.

“People fight outside (Lebanon), but send their messages through Lebanon. With bombs. It’s their SMS service,” a shopkeeper said.

Southern Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, was hit by three explosions earlier this year in which a total of at least 66 people were killed.

“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 (Israel),” Iranian ambassador Roknabadi said.

He did not say whether other embassy officials were among the dead, but Lebanese televisions quoted Iranian diplomatic sources saying none of their staff inside the embassy was hurt.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.

Footage from local news channels showed charred bodies on the ground as flames rose from stricken vehicles. Emergency workers and residents carried victims away in blankets.

Iran’s Foreign Minister blamed Israel for the attacks. Hezbollah and Syrian officials indirectly blamed Saudi Arabia 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, in a clear reference to oil-rich Gulf Arab countries.

Hezbollah official Ali Ammar said the attack would not deter the group, known by its supporters as the “resistance”.

“Whoever did this is a monstrous terrorist,” he said. “The resistance message is that it will continue. It will continue in all its efforts to defeat Israel and defeat the terrorists.”

Senior Hezbollah official Mahmoud Komati told reporters 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. Agencies

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