TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Police arrested two suspects Saturday linked to the twin car bombs in the northern city of Tripoli as the death toll from the blasts rose to 47 and politicians grappled with the aftermath of the attack amid worries of more sectarian strife.
Sheikh Ahmad Gharib, 40, was arrested by the police overnight in his residence in Minyeh, north of Tripoli. Arms, explosives and maps of the northern city were seized at his home, judicial sources said.
The sources said that Gharib was an affiliate to the Syrian regime-backed Baath Party and had recently paid several visits to Syria. Gharib was studying Islam in Syria but then quit and became a staunch supporter of the Assad regime.
Another suspect in the bombing, Sheikh Abdel Razzak Hammoud, was arrested around noon, the sources said.
The sources said that both sheikhs are members of the Tripoli-based Islamic Tawheed Movement, a pro-Syrian regime group headed by Hashem Minkara.
Investigations into the explosions outside two Sunni Muslim mosques carried on as military experts inspected the blast scenes to identify the cars used in the large bombings outside the Al-Salam Mosque on Tripoli’s Maarad Street and the A-Taqwa Mosque near Abu Ali roundabout.
The sources said that the explosive used outside the Al-Salam Mosque weighed around 175 kilograms. They added that the car used in the blast was a Ford and that investigators are still trying to determine if the other car bomb was a Jeep or a pickup.
Security sources said that 47 people were killed in the attacks and about 300 people who were wounded in the bomb blasts Friday were still hospitalized while others who had mild wounds have returned to their homes.
Funerals started across the northern city and families in neighborhoods of Abi Samra, Bab al-Ramel, Qibbeh, Mina and other streets were preparing to lay the victims to rest.
The Army issued a statement Saturday saying that a 25-year-old soldier, Nizar Sabha, was among the people killed in the blasts. Sabha was laid to rest early Saturday in his hometown of Debbabiyeh in Akkar.
The situation in Tripoli early Saturday was calm but many shops were closed and traffic in the northern city was very slow.
Friday's blast came days after a similar attack targeted a pro-Hezbollah area in Beirut’s southern suburb of Ruwaiss killing 27 people.
The incident that sparked fears of sectarian strife continued to draw political condemnation as the United Nations and Iran denounced the blasts.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati headed a security meeting in his Tripoli residence and then inspected the blast scene outside Al-Salam Mosque.
Mikati confirmed that a suspect was arrested over the blasts and called on Tripoli residents to unite and cooperate with the security forces.
The Muslim Scholars Committee also held a meeting in Tripoli’s Sheikh Salem Al-Rafei residence and considered that the “terrorist” blasts in Tripoli targeted Muslims and the committee.
Sheikh Rafei, a staunch opponent of the Syrian regime and a leading Salafist figure in Tripoli, usually heads the Friday prayers and preaches in the Taqwa Mosque.
Rafei accused the Assad regime of being behind the blasts and also of being behind the recent blast in Ruwaiss and urged Hezbollah to stop supporting Assad.
“Withdraw from Syria and back off your support to the regime and let us start a new beginning,” he said addressing Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council condemned the two bomb explosions and urged that those responsible be brought to justice.
In its statement, the Security Council condemned the attacks as “acts of terrorism,” and reiterated the need to combat such acts in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and all obligations under international law.
The 15-member Council also appealed to all Lebanese people to “preserve national unity in the face of attempts to undermine the country’s stability”.
For his part, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araqchi strongly condemned the “terrorist blasts” in Tripoli and gave his sympathy to victims’ families, IRNA reported.
According to the Iranian state agency, Araqchi said, “Undoubtedly, dirty hands of the Zionists have come out from the sleeve of irresponsible Takfiri and radical groups who intend to sow seeds of sedition, damage national unity and peaceful co-existence of different Lebanese ethnic groups, especially Islamic sects.”
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi also denounced the twin bombings and called on all Lebanese to resort to “the language of reason and brotherhood, in order to ward off the conspiracy to ignite strife” in Lebanon.