BEIRUT: Twin suicide car bombings targeting the Iranian Cultural Center in a busy Beirut suburb Wednesday killed at least eight people, including the bombers, and wounded 128 others, a security source said.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the deadly explosions, describing the attacks as a "raid" against the center in retaliation to Hezbollah and Tehran's role in the Syrian war.
The same group also claimed the Nov. 19 twin suicide attack outside the Iranian Embassy that killed dozens, including an Iranian diplomat.
The blasts, which occurred at 9:25 a.m. during rush hour, are the second attack in less than four months targeting Iranian interests in Bir Hasan. The commercial and residential neighborhood is home to the Iranian and Kuwaiti embassies and several television stations.
Ambulances and Civil Defense trucks rushed to the scene of the explosion which was powerful enough to be felt several kilometers away.
The twin attack killed eight people, including a policeman and the two suicide bombers, the source told The Daily Star, adding that several wounded were in critical condition.
A security source identified the member of the Internal Security Forces as Mohammad Dandash.
Tawhid party, headed by Wiam Wahhab, said one of the victims of the blasts was a member of the group identified as 56-year-old Hamzi Sobh.
Al-Manar Television reported that the soldier grew suspicious of one of the bombers inside the vehicle and stopped him. The bomber then blew up the car.
The Lebanese Army urged citizens whose relatives went missing in the attack to head to Al-Rasoul Al-Azam Hospital to undergo DNA tests in order to identify human remains found on the site.
The military said the "simultaneous attacks" were caused by two vehicles that exploded seconds apart: a Mercedes exploded outside the Iranian Cultural Center while a BMW blew up near the European exhibition center.
“The Military Police unit as well as a number of experts began investigating the site of the explosion and human remains found near the attack site,” the Army said in a statement.
In a separate statement, the Army reported that the Mercedes had a fake license plate and contained 75 kilograms of explosives and shells distributed in the car.
The second vehicle, BMW X5, contained 90 kilograms of shells placed in the four-wheel vehicle, which was stolen from Beirut’s southern suburbs on the Airport road.
The Army added that the BMW was originally registered under the name of Mohammad Ali Issa and was later sold to Mustafa Ismail.
A number of buildings and vehicles were damaged and human remains were seen scattered at the site of the attack.
“I was walking near the Kuwaiti Embassy and I heard what sounded and felt like an earthquake,” a passerby told The Daily Star.
“I immediately rushed to check on my sister who works nearby,” the distraught man said.
A family living in one of the damaged buildings said they woke up to the sound of the explosions.
“My children were terrified. I went down stairs to see what happened,” another Bir Hasan resident said.
The Islamic Orphanage, located meters away from the Iranian center, said 11 children and one supervisor were slightly wounded.
The children were in the playground when the explosion occurred, a statement from the institution said, adding that the building, which houses some 260 orphans, was severely damaged.
“We were playing tug-of-war when the explosion happened,” said one of the children.
“May God punish them and not allow them to go to Heaven,” another shouted. “Please God!”
Newly appointed Interior Minister Nuhad Machnouk expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and said Lebanese authorities should crack down on stolen vehicles in Lebanon.
“There are Lebanese passageways sending stolen vehicles to Syria where they are being rigged with explosives,” Machnouk told reporters at the site.
“We should crack down in areas like the Bekaa and others where thieves live and where stolen vehicles are taken,” he added.
Machnouk also said that some Lebanese were facilitating the work of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
The Iranian Embassy in Beirut said there were no serious injuries among its staff at the cultural center.
“Only a few employees suffered minor injuries from broken glass,” an embassy spokesman said.
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of bombings mostly targeting predominantly-Shiite neighborhoods in the capital’s suburbs and east Lebanon.
Radical groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for the explosions, saying the attacks were in retaliation to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah stood defiant Sunday, saying his group would remain fighting "takfiri forces" in Syria and would only withdraw if Arab countries stop meddling in the war-torn country.
Wednesday’s attacks come days after Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced the formation of his “National Interest” Cabinet, bringing together the Hezbollah-led March 8 and the Future Movement-led March 14 coalitions. -With additional reporting by Rima Aboulmona