BEIRUT: Two suicide bombers – one driving a rigged car and the other on a motorcycle with an explosives belt – attacked Iran’s Embassy in Beirut Tuesday, killing at least 25 people including an Iranian diplomat and wounding more than 150, security sources said.
The attack, confirmed by Lebanon’s military prosecutor as the work of suicide bombers, was claimed by an Al-Qaeda-linked group and is the latest in a spate of deadly bombings linked to the war in Syria.
"The Abdullah Azzam brigades – the Hussein bin Ali cells – … are behind the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut," Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group's religious guide, said on his Twitter feed.
“It is a twin suicide operation by two heroes from the Sunni community in Lebanon,” he said, warning that that the group – a Lebanon-based Al-Qaeda affiliate – would carry out further attacks until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria and Islamist detainees in Lebanon are released.
A high-level security source said CCTV footage showed the first suicide bomber detonating his explosives belt at the embassy’s entrance just before 10 a.m. after approaching the compound on a motorcycle.
An embassy guard had shot at the man as he rushed toward the embassy, the source said, adding that the bomber’s belt contained 5 kilograms of explosives material.
Minutes later, a second explosion shook the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Bir Hasan when another bomber detonated an explosives-laden Sports Utility Vehicle less than 50 meters from the embassy compound, the source said.
The vehicle – a Trailblazer - was rigged with 60 kilograms of explosives, the source added.
In a statement, the Army said five kilograms of explosives were used in the first blast and that the second vehicle – a darkish-grey, four- wheel-drive – was rigged with “approximately 50 kilograms” of explosives.
“Investigations are ongoing to identify the suicide bombers and where the motorcycle and car used in the terrorist operations originated from,” the military said in a statement.
Among the 25 victims was Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari, the embassy’s cultural attaché, and an Iranian civilian, the security sources said.
Radwan Fares, 45, a Lebanese national who headed the embassy’s security, was also killed, they said. Fares was with Ansari at the time of the incident, the sources said, adding that the two were headed to a meeting with caretaker Cultural Minister Gaby Layyoun.
Five Iranians, including embassy guards and a nurse were also wounded in the bombings, according to the sources, who all spoke on condition of anonymity.
Speaking hours after the explosions, Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi said his embassy was the target of a “terrorist attack” and blamed Israel, Iran’s long-time foe.
Marzieh Afkham, spokeswoman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, condemned the attack, also pointing the finger of blame at Israel.
“[The bombings are] an inhumane crime and spiteful act done by Zionists [Israelis] and their mercenaries," Afkham told IRNA news agency.
The area around the embassy was littered with debris as firefighters fought to contain the flames from burning vehicles parked on the road adjacent to the embassy compound.
At least six bodies lay on the street leading to the compound as thick plumes of black smoke filled the sky over the Beirut neighborhood.
“I was waiting at the traffic sign on the street parallel to the Iranian embassy when I heard a loud explosion,” said a motorist, who refused to be identified.
“I was terrified. I saw black smoke, but I decided to continue my trip to Shweifat [southeast of Beirut],” she added.
Lebanon, polarized over the war in Syria, has seen a string of deadly car bombings in recent months, all widely linked to crisis in its war-torn neighbor.
On two separate occasions, car bombs have targeted the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Iranian-backed Hezbollah which in May acknowledged it was fighting in Syria alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebel groups.
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has accused jihadists of being behind the bombings in the southern suburbs and vowed to continue the military campaign in Syria as long as necessary.