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Alex Rowell

Suicide slaughter at Iranian embassy

NOW reports from scene of blasts, which analysts say are likely linked to Syria developments

Mangled cars and shattered glass on Jerusalem Street, opposite the Iranian embassy.
Mangled cars and shattered glass on Jerusalem Street, opposite the Iranian embassy.
Aid workers scramble to assist wounded as Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers hold onlookers back.
Blood and glass shards on Jerusalem Street.
Blood and glass shards on Jerusalem Street.
Aid workers, journalists and onlookers on a sidestreet perpendicular to Jerusalem Street.
Aid workers rest after a hectic morning.
Cars several blocks away from the blast sites still suffered damage.
Mangled cars and shattered glass on Jerusalem Street, opposite the Iranian embassy.
An apartment block directly above one blast site, with entire chunks of balconies torn off.
Mangled cars and shattered glass on Jerusalem Street, opposite the Iranian embassy.

There was still a bloodied body squirming on the ground when NOW arrived at Jerusalem Street Tuesday morning, surrounded by rescue workers frantically trying to lift the semi-conscious man onto a stretcher. The Lebanese army, in tandem with plain-clothed security forces including some wearing yellow armbands bearing the Hezbollah logo, had sealed off an adjacent fifty-meter stretch of the street outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut’s predominantly Shiite Jnah suburb, where earlier two suicide bombers had detonated over 50kg of explosives, killing 23 and wounding over 150.

 

In the minutes following the explosions, television stations aired disturbing footage of charred corpses sprawled before blazing rows of cars, the air thick with clouds of black smoke. By the time NOW arrived, the fires had been doused, but pools of blood still dotted the street, dyeing the countless shards of glass blown out of hundreds of windows from the surrounding apartment blocks. At least a dozen cars lay mangled and squashed. The residences nearest the blast had entire chunks of their balconies ripped off even five stories above the ground.

 

As the crowd of aid workers, journalists, and onlookers gradually thinned, residents headed indoors to begin the task of repairing their homes, and the sound of glass fragments being swept up could be heard for several blocks. “I heard both explosions very well, they were very powerful,” said one young man with a broom, who declined to give his name. Asked who he thought carried out the attack, he replied, “The terrorists, of course,” a generic reference to the various Sunni jihadi outfits opposed to Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as its ally, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

 

Indeed, the attacks were later claimed by exactly such a group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al-Qaeda affiliate whose spokesman said on Twitter that such “operations in Lebanon will continue” until the “withdrawal of [Hezbollah] from Syria” and the release of the Brigades’ members from Lebanese jails. The group has previously taken credit for a roadside bomb targeting a Hezbollah convoy in the Beqaa Valley in July and a series of rocket launches at Israel in August.

 

Accordingly, some analysts told NOW the Jnah bombings were likely linked to recent developments in Syria, particularly the ongoing battles in the strategic Qalamoun region, one town of which was captured by Syrian regime forces Tuesday after three days of intense fighting.

 

“Recent Syrian government gains around Damascus, Aleppo, and in the northern Qalamoun have resulted in a further escalation in sectarian sentiment among Syria’s insurgent opposition,” said Charles Lister, analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Counterinsurgency Centre. “The apparent involvement of one or both of Hezbollah and Iranian military personnel in recent military gains makes the targeting of those actors’ assets abroad much more likely. As such, attacks like this one are likely to continue on a sporadic basis.”

 

Others, however, saw in the attacks a message intended more for Iran than Syria.

 

“My opinion is that it’s not related to Qalamoun. This is bigger than the Syria issue,” said Qassem Qassir, a Lebanese analyst specializing in militant Islamist movements. “These explosions targeted the Iranian embassy on the eve of the negotiations with Iran on the nuclear file. It’s clear that this is a message to Iran and to the role of Iran in the region as a whole. If the negotiations reach an agreement, we are going to witness a lot of changes in terms of the relationship between Iran and world powers,” which the attacks aimed to forestall, Qassir told NOW.

 

Qassir also treated the Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ claim of responsibility with caution. “I don’t know, I don’t have any information on this. They took responsibility, but any Islamist group could be part of this plan.”

 

Assuming the Brigades’ claim is accurate, however, Lister told NOW it could bolster the relatively little-known group’s profile, further fuelling the level of violence in Lebanon.

 

“A ‘spectacular’ attack like this will be highly likely to encourage further recruitment into the group’s cause. This attack is a significant escalation – after months and months of speculation, an al-Qaeda-linked group has now underlined its involvement in the Syria-related Lebanese theatre. Short-term stability in Palestinian refugee camps” – from which the Brigades primarily recruit – “could feasibly suffer, as could the situation in already unstable towns such as Arsal on the Syrian border.”

 

Indeed, signs of greater pressure on Arsal – the key remaining crossing point for anti-regime militants between Lebanon and Syria – have already manifested in the hours following Tuesday’s bombings. In the late afternoon, regime warplanes launched air-to-surface missiles at the nearby village of Akabat al-Moubayda. Casualty figures were unavailable at the time of publishing.

 

Maya Gebeily contributed reporting.

Mangled cars and shattered glass on Jerusalem Street, opposite the Iranian embassy.

“Asked who he thought carried out the attack, he replied, ‘The terrorists, of course.’”

  • Jacob the aggressive watcher

    I remember very well that Arabs used to call these thugs martyrs , if they detonated themselves in Israel with devastating effects. Unfortunately you Muslims get a taste of it as we'll . Up to now all prisoners released from Israeli prisons get awarded by the PA .

    November 21, 2013

  • RODRIGUEZ

    IRAN HAS ALWAYS USED TERRORIST GROUPS TO BOMB WESTERN EMBASSIES .. NOW THEY ARE TASTING WHAT THEY HAVE USE TO DO!!

    November 21, 2013

  • buddy

    after all of this america yet has not commented or even attempted to help why! is it because there is no oil in lebanon or is it america who is supporting these terrorist

    November 20, 2013