Lebanon News

Blast targets Beirut bank, 2 wounded

BEIRUT: An explosive device hidden in plants outside a bank in Beirut exploded Sunday evening on a mostly-empty street, lightly wounding two people, officials said.

One source told The Daily Star that the device weighed about 5 kilograms and was detonated outside a branch of Blom Bank in the Verdun neighborhood while many were at home breaking their Ramadan fasts.

Internal Security Forces head Ibrahim Basbous later said the device weighed between 10-15 kilograms.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk told Reuters it was "clear" that Blom was the target of the blast. He had initially said the device was placed under a car.

Television footage showed shattered glass and badly damaged cars in the vicinity of the blast, which occurred facing the popular Concorde Center where a movie theater and shops are located.

The blast did not resemble the deadly explosions that have mostly targeted Beirut's southern suburbs in recent years.

Several Western embassies in recent days have issued alerts to their citizens asking them not to visit tourist areas. On Friday, the Canadian embassy advised citizens not to travel to Downtown Beirut, Hamra, or restaurants, and to "avoid large gatherings."

Machnouk said no casualties had been reported, but Lebanese Red Cross chief George Kettaneh had earlier said two were lightly wounded.

Al-Jadeed television identified the two as security guards who worked at the bank, saying they were moved to the American University of Beirut - Medical Center to be treated for light wounds.

Security forces cordoned off the area and investigators are reviewing CCTV footage from buildings in the area to determine who planted the device, a source said.

Saad Azhari, the head of Blom Bank, told reporters he had no idea why his bank would be targeted.

"There was no threat," he said from the site of the blast, rejecting speculation that the bank was hit because of any measures Blom has taken against any group in Lebanon.

Some banks in Lebanon, including Blom, have recently been shutting accounts linked to Hezbollah in light of a recent U.S. sanctions law targeting the group's finances.

Azhari said his bank does not discriminate against anyone in Lebanon and that he would wait for investigations to be completed before any judgments can be made over the reason for the blast.

Basbous, the police chief, confirmed that the blast occurred outside the bank, saying the device was planted against a wall of the building in plants. Little else was known at this point, he added.

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab told reporters from the site of the blast that a building affected by the explosion is used for official exam testing set to resume Monday.

He said testing would be moved to a different location because the windows had been blown out by the blast.





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