Suicide bombings target Iran embassy in 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 withdraw forces from Syria, where they have backed President Bashar Al Assad’s 2-1/2-year-old war against the rebels.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy 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, however, said both blasts were 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.
Lebanon has suffered a series of sectarian clashes and bomb attacks 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.
“At one entrance of the Iranian embassy I counted six bodies outside,” Reuters television cameraman Issam Abdullah said. “I saw body parts...thrown two streets away. There is huge damage.”
The embassy’s sturdy metal gate was twisted by the blasts, which Lebanon’s 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.
Iran’s ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi identified one of the dead as Ebrahim Ansari, a cultural attache who was on his way to work at the diplomatic compound when the bombs exploded.
Fires engulfed cars outside the embassy and the facades of some buildings were torn off. Shattered glass covered the bloodied streets and some trees were uprooted, but the embassy’s well-fortified building itself suffered relatively minor damage.
“Whoever carries out such an attack in these sensitive circumstances, from whichever faction, knows directly or indirectly that he is serving the interests of the Zionist entity (Israel),” Roknabadi said.
He did not say whether other embassy officials were among the dead, but Lebanese TV stations quoted Iranian diplomatic sources as saying none of their staff in the embassy was hurt.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned what he described as a “shocking terrorist attack” and France expressed “solidarity with the Lebanese and Iranian authorities”.
Lebanese politicians also condemned the attack.