HERMEL/BEIRUT: A suspected suicide car bombing killed five people and wounded 42 others in a bustling neighborhood in the northeastern town of Hermel Thursday, a security source told The Daily Star.
The blast occurred during the morning rush hour near the town’s government building as people made their way to work in a residential and commercial neighborhood in Hermel, a town near the northern border with Syria and where Hezbollah enjoys broad support.
The 8:55 a.m. bombing came amid a flurry of warnings by a Syrian rebel group and an Al-Qaeda offshoot, threatening to carry out more attacks against Hezbollah on the backdrop of the crisis in Syria.
“I was on my way to work when I heard the explosion that shook my vehicle,” Hermel Mayor Sobhi Saqr told The Daily Star, adding that he had thought the blast was the result of “the usual rocket attack.”
“The bombing took place near the government building, several banks and other services-based companies. It is a very crowded area,” he added.
“They wanted to kill as many civilians as possible. This was not a political attack,” Saqr said.
Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for what it said was a suicide car bombing in Hermel, saying the attack was in retaliation to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
“[We] shook a stronghold of Iran's party in Hermel with a suicide bombing spearheaded by one of Nusra Front in Lebanon's men in response to what the group is committing as crimes against Sunni women and children in Syria,” the group said in a statement on its Twitter feed.
Authorities were able to name three of Thursday’s victims, a security source said, noting that the remains of two additional bodies were not identifiable yet.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star evidence pointed strongly that the deadly attack in the commercial Square of Sabreh Hamadeh was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Charbel also said that four people among the wounded were in critical condition.
The security source said the remains of a man were pulled out from the car used in the 9 a.m. explosion, suggesting the attack was likely the work of a suicide bomber.
Plumes of smoke covered Hermel's skyline as television footage showed the wreckage of the burst vehicle and the damage nearby.
Ambulances rushed to the scene of the explosion as local residents helped firefighters put out the fire from the car bomb, the latest in a series of explosions in the country that have been mostly linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria.
The Army confirmed the car bombing, saying the military deployed in Hermel and cordoned off the site of the explosion.
In a statement, the military said forensic experts and the military police inspected the bombing site as well as human remains found near the explosive-rigged vehicle, asking citizens to evacuate the area for their own safety.
The National News Agency said military experts estimated that the bomb which the report said was placed in a black Kia Sportage weighed 35 kilograms.
Hermel has been the target of rocket attacks which were claimed by Syrian rebel groups in retaliation to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
In December, an explosives-laden vehicle was detonated near a Hezbollah post in northeastern Lebanon killing at least two of the group’s fighters.
Earlier this month, a suicide car bombing ripped through the neighborhood of Haret Hreik in the capital’s southern suburbs, a Beirut area where Hezbollah has strong support.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the Haret Hreik bombing, vowing more attacks against Hezbollah in Lebanon. -With additional reporting by Jana al-Hassan and Rakan al-Fakih.