Suicide bombings kill 23 near Iran embassy in Beirut
Updated: 2013-11-20 09:48
BEIRUT -- Two suicide bombings rocked Iran's embassy compound in Lebanon on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people including an Iranian cultural attache and hurling bodies and burning wreckage across a debris-strewn street.
A Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks unless Iran withdraws forces from Syria, where they have backed President Bashar al-Assad's 2-1/2-year-old war against rebels.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy in Beirut before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound had caused the second, deadlier explosion. The Lebanese army described both blasts as suicide attacks.
In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the group had carried out the attack. "It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes of Lebanon," he wrote.
Lebanon has suffered a series of sectarian clashes and bomb attacks on Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim targets which have been linked to the Syrian conflict and which had already killed scores of people this year.
Tuesday's bombing took place on the eve of more talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme. They came close to agreeing an interim deal during negotiations earlier this month.
The bombs also struck as Assad's forces extended their military gains in Syria before peace talks which the United Nations hopes to convene in mid-December and which Iran says it is ready to attend.
Shi'ite Iran actively supports Assad against mostly Sunni rebels, and two of its Revolutionary Guard commanders have been killed in Syria this year. Along with fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, Iran has helped to turn the tide in Assad's favour at the expense of rebels backed and armed by Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
CULTURAL ATTACHE KILLED
A Reuters cameraman at the scene counted six bodies outside one entrance to the embassy compound. Body parts were strewn as far as two streets away and several cars were badly damaged.
The embassy's sturdy metal gate was twisted by the blasts, which Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said killed 23 people and wounded 146.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the bombs were "an inhuman and vicious act perpetrated by Israel and its terror agents", Iran's IRNA news agency reported.
Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi said his country had played no role. "The bloodshed in Beirut is a result of Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria crisis. Israel was not involved in the past and was not involved here," he said in Jerusalem.
Iran's ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi identified one of the dead as Ebrahim Ansari, a cultural attache at the embassy.
A Lebanese security source said the bombers struck just before Roknabadi and Ansari had been due to leave the embassy for a meeting at Lebanon's Culture Ministry, as embassy guards were preparing a convoy of cars to take them.