BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army confirmed Thursday that a 22-year-old Palestinian was one of two suicide bombers who targeted the Iranian Cultural Center in a Beirut neighborhood the day before, as the death toll from the attack rose to 10.
The Army said in a statement that DNA tests conducted on the remains of one of the suicide bombers in the Bir Hasan neighborhood of Beirut showed he was Nidal al-Mghayer.
An investigation is underway to reveal the full details of the crime, the statement added.
The road at the blast site was partially reopened, while residents and shop owners began to clean up.
Quoting sources familiar with the investigation, media reports said Mghayer, a resident of the predominantly southern Shiite village of Bisarieh, had fought the Lebanese Army alongside fugitive Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir during last June’s battle in Abra, a suburb of Sidon. Assir, a staunch critic of Hezbollah, remains at large.
Abdel-Rahman al-Batwi, Anas Bahan, Ali Merhi, Mohammad Hamdan and Marwan Hamadeh, all friends of Mghayer, were also among Assir’s fighters in Abra. The reports said Hamadeh could be the second suicide bomber, as he disappeared at the same time that Mghayer left to fight for Assir.Footage was circulated among media outlets Thursday showing Mghayer carrying an AK-47 in Syria’s Qalamoun region, where he is believed to have fought among Syrian rebels.
But security sources said that there was no definite proof that Mghayer took part in the Abra battles or in any activity organized by Assir. However, they said Mghayer used to attend prayers led by Assir in Abra.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the twin bombings Wednesday. It was the second such attack targeting Iranian interests in Lebanon, with the group saying the violence was retribution for the country’s support for Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside regime forces in Syria. The group also claimed the Nov. 19 bombings of the Iranian Embassy, which is located in the same area.
Tensions in Bisarieh were running high Thursday. Two cars belonging to Mghayer’s family were torched Wednesday, with residents of the village telling The Daily Star it was a “spontaneous reaction” aimed at delivering a message to anyone who had the same doctrine as the Palestinian to leave the village.
Mghayer’s family house was empty Thursday. Although the Lebanese Army eased security measures around it, troops kept a post stationed near the house of Mghayer’s grandparents, where his parents are currently staying.
As the funerals of Abbas Hammoud, Harb Harb, Ziad Ajaj and Hamza Sobh were held in their villages in south Lebanon and Aley, the death toll from the twin suicide car bombings rose to 10 following the recovery of more human remains from the site of the attack, judicial sources told The Daily Star.
The sources said it was unlikely that the discovered remains belonged to either of the two suicide bombers.
The sources also revealed that the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch had arrested a Lebanese national who allegedly confessed prior to the attack to being tasked by a member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades with monitoring the Iranian Cultural Center. The suspect reportedly told authorities that Lebanese Sheikh Sirajeddin Zreikat, a spokesperson for the militant group, had also asked him to survey the headquarters of the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar television station in Jnah.
The suspect reportedly named several other possible targets in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a predominantly Shiite area where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
Al-Manar television identified the suspect as Mahmoud Abu Alfa, and reported that he was arrested in the Beirut neighborhood of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh and was a member of an alleged “logistics network” operating for the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
One of the sources said the security forces had implemented tight security measures near the Iranian Cultural Center prior to the attack Wednesday, but had not been able to block the road leading to the center.
“If it hadn’t been for the security measures, the explosion could have resulted in more losses for the Iranian center,” the source said.
Authorities are appealing to civilians to report any missing family members whose whereabouts they don’t know.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc called for “the widest religious, official and popular campaign to ostracize and combat takfiri terrorism and exterminate this crazy and destructive phenomenon,” in a statement after its weekly meeting. It called on the government to begin implementing a comprehensive national plan for this purpose.
“The bloc also calls on all political factions to take advantage of the positive atmosphere that accompanied the formation of the government, stop justifying these crimes committed across Lebanon and to not provide shelter for perpetrators.”