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Lebanon checks on identity of suicide car bomber

Lebanese soldiers inspect the site of the explosion in Haret Hreik, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities Friday were trying to determine whether a 19-year-old man from north Lebanon was the suspected suicide bomber behind the attack in the Beirut southern suburbs that left five people killed and more than 70 wounded a day earlier, a security source said.

Authorities are also interrogating a man who was apprehended near the blast scene, the source added.

The source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said an identification card belonging to Qotaiba Mohammad al-Satem, 19, was found in the debris of a building damaged by the 4:10 pm. attack in Haret Hreik.

The source said Satem, from the Akkar region of Wadi Khaled, was the likely suicide bomber.

“The suicide bomber theory remains and is the most plausible for the time being,” the source said.

“Satem was the likely [bomber], particularly given that he was on good terms with his cousin, Mohammad al-Satem, known for his extremism,” the source said, adding that the latter was known to be in the Syrian border town of Yabroud where for he has for months been fighting with Syrian rebels.

At 4.10 p.m. a car bomb ripped through Haret Hreik, a densely-populated neighborhood of the southern suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah enjoys strong support. The bombing killed five people, including the suspected bomber, the source said. More than 70 people were also wounded in the attack.

The suggestion Thursday’s attack was the work of a suicide bomber was first put forward by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. Without excluding other possibilities, Charbel pointed to the presence of human remains in the vehicle that was rigged with some 20 kilograms of explosives.

During the course of the investigation, authorities pulled an upper part of what is thought to be the body of the alleged suicide bomber and some features of his face and head.

Mohammad Dabbah al-Satem, following news of the discovery of his son's identity papers, headed to the Military Intelligence headquarters in Wadi Khaled, the source said. The father was then brought in for questioning during which he told investigators his son had been missing since Dec. 30.

The father also said he had filed a report days earlier after the family lost contact with Satem.

He denied his son had links to a terrorist organization or an extremist group, the source said.

DNA tests, according to the source, are being conducted on the victims of the attack, on human remains found at the crime scene as well as Satem’s father.

The source said as part of the investigation, authorities were also interrogating a man who was detained Thursday evening near the scene of the crime. The man was not a local from the area, the source added.

Once the identity of the suspected suicide bomber has been determined, investigators will turn to the organization behind the attack and whether the vehicle – a dark green, 1993 Grand Cherokee Jeep – was rigged with explosives in Syria or Lebanon, the source said.

The Satem family, in a statement, called for a “transparent” investigation while condemning “any attack against any Lebanese [citizen].”

A separate statement signed by "Wadi Khaled tribes" accused Hezbollah of "kidnapping" Qotaiba Satem in the Bekaa Valley four days before the Haret Hreik blast.

The statement said Satem was kidnapped at a Hezbollah checkpoint as he was headed to the Bekaa Valley border town of Arsal.

The tribes held Hezbollah responsible “for the safety” of Satem, whom they described as a college student.

“We hold Hezbollah fully responsible for the safety of our son and we tell them that our blood is more precious than your political cleverness and your cheap deals,” they warned.

 

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