BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah accused jihadists Friday of being behind a string of attacks targeting the party, including a deadly blast the day before in Beirut’s southern suburbs that killed 24 people, and threatened an all-out war against these takfiri groups in Syria.
The Hezbollah chief also declared that the takfiri movement, which is currently wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, has taken a decision to destroy Lebanon. Nasrallah warned that if bombings continued in Lebanon, they would place the country on the brink of the abyss.
In a fiery speech a day after the deadliest car bombing in nearly three decades struck the southern suburb of Ruwaiss, a Hezbollah stronghold, Nasrallah pledged to double the number of his party’s fighters in Syria aiding forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and to join the battle himself if needed against takfiri groups in the war-ravaged country.
Nasrallah’s speech, marking the seventh anniversary of Hezbollah’s 34-day war with Israel, came shortly after caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn sounded the alarm bell about recent security incidents that have recently rattled the country, saying Lebanon had begun to slip into the “grip of terrorism.”
Nasrallah called the bombing, which also wounded more than 300 people and caused massive damage to buildings, “a big and dangerous terrorist attack.” He said the bomb, weighing over 100 kilograms, was, like the blast in the Bir al-Abed neighborhood on July 9, aimed at killing innocent people.
More than 50 people were wounded in last month’s blast.
“According to information and indications, it’s most likely that a takfiri group was behind yesterday’s explosion and their operatives are known. Some of them are Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, unfortunately,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech, addressing thousands of supporters assembled in the main square of the southern town of Aita al-Shaab near the border with Israel.
Nasrallah said the explosions in the southern suburbs and a series of bomb attacks that targeted Hezbollah’s convoys near the border with Syria and the cities of Hermel and Baalbek would not deter his staunch support for the Assad regime.
“If you think by killing our sons, women and children ... and destroying our cities and neighborhoods, we will retreat from the position we took [on Syria] you are mistaken,” Nasrallah said, adding: “You idiots, read our 30-year experience with Israel.”
“You are striking in the wrong place. If we had 100 fighters in Syria, now they will be 200. If we had 1,000, they will be 2,000. If we had 5,000 they will be 10,000,” he said, speaking via a video link on a giant screen.
“If the battle with these takfiri terrorists requires that I and all Hezbollah should go to Syria, we will go for the sake of Syria and its people and for the sake of Lebanon and its people,” Nasrallah added, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Although he eliminated Israel as a prime suspect in the series of bomb attacks in the country, he said that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies had “undoubtedly” managed to infiltrate takfiri groups, which he added were now working to serve Israel’s interests.
Nasrallah vowed to apprehend those responsible for the bomb attacks. “If you are working for Israel, our hands will reach you if the state fails to do so,” he said.
Nasrallah warned that further bombings would pose a great threat to the country and called for cooperation and coordination with security agencies in order to thwart takfiri attempts at destabilization.
“I say to all the Lebanese ... if these bombings continue, Lebanon could be put on the verge of the abyss,” he said. “Whoever believes that these bombings are targeting a certain sect or party, they are mistaken.”
“The one who has decided to destroy the region, has taken a decision today to destroy Lebanon,” Nasrallah said. “These [jihadist] groups want to take Lebanon to destruction and civil war.”
Hours before Nasrallah’s speech, Ghosn revealed that a Syrian suspect was in custody over the Bir al-Abed car bombing. Ghosn said authorities had also detained a man who confessed to being involved in planning to carry out car bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs and elsewhere.
“ Lebanon has started to fall into the grip of terrorism,” said Ghosn, urging national unity and popular support for the Lebanese Army to ward off the threat of strife.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah had beefed up its security in its areas following threats by Syrian rebels to attack the party’s strongholds in the southern suburbs and the Bekaa region in response to its military intervention in Syria.
“Such measures could reduce the occurrence of attacks and the damage, but [they] are not enough,” said Nasrallah.“[We should] work on uncovering, besieging, dismantling, arresting and abolishing these groups and these are merely standard measures practiced in every country.”
While forensics inspectors sifted through debris, charred cars and damaged buildings at the scene of the blast in search for evidence, authorities were investigating the possibility that the bombing was carried out by a suicide bomber.
“The initial hypothesis is that the blast was the work of a suicide [bomber] due the presence of a car in the middle of the road,” caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said, adding that CCTV footage would help determine what happened.
The other possibility is that the car was detonated remotely, Charbel told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
He said no arrests had been made in the case.
A security source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, confirmed Charbel’s assessment, saying a suicide bomber was the most plausible theory, citing reports the vehicle exploded in the middle of the street and had not been parked at the time of the blast.
A group calling itself the “Brigade of Aisha, the Mother of the Faithful” threatened further attacks against what it called “Iranian colonies” in Lebanon.
Louay Meqdad, a media spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, condemned the bombing as “a coward terrorist act,” saying the FSA had nothing to do with it.