International

Deadly explosions hit near Iranian Embassy in Beirut

At least 23 are killed; Al-Qaeda affiliate claims responsibility

Two explosions hit a southern area of the Lebanese capital of Beirut Tuesday morning, near the Iranian embassy, killing at least 23 people, security sources said. At least 146 people were injured.

Iranian embassy sources told Al Jazeera that five security guards and the cultural attache, Ebrahim Ansari, were among the dead.

An armed guard of the Iranian embassy reportedly told The Associated Press that the first blast was carried out by a suicide attacker who rode a motorcycle and blew himself up outside the embassy gate. Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials quoted by Reuters said.

Roughly two minutes later, a second suicide attacker driving a car rigged with 110 pounds of explosives struck about 10 yards away, a Lebanese official told AP.

At the scene, puddles of blood stained the ground, amid broken branches scattered from the blasts' force. A woman in a black robe and headscarf, unable to stand, clutched a man, pleading with security forces for help.

"The sheer scale of the destruction is an indication as to how powerful the explosives were," reported Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr from near the site, "with over five buildings damaged by the blasts."

"People are roaming the streets looking for loved ones," said Khodr. "Ambulances are arriving to the scene, and we understand there are a lot of casualties."

The Abdullah Azzam brigades, a Lebanon-based Al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Reuters. While the motive behind the attack remains unclear, the group has said it would target allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In a Twitter post, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious guide of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said the group had carried out the attack, Reuters reports. "It was a double martyrdom operation by two of the Sunni heroes of Lebanon," he wrote.

Syrian rebel groups, some with Al Qaeda links, have threatened to take their battle from Syria to Lebanon in response to the military involvement of Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite guerrilla ally Hezbollah alongside Assad's forces. The move has increased sectarian tension in the two countries.

Southern Beirut is known as a Hezbollah stronghold and has been rocked with at least three other explosions this year.

"We tell those who carried out the attack, you will not be able to break us," Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Mikdad told Al-Mayadeen TV. "We got the message and we know who sent it and we know how to retaliate."

Hezbollah's Al-Rasoul al-Azam hospital called on people to donate blood, saying they need all blood types.

In August a bombing targeted a Sunni mosque in Tripoli, a city north of Beirut, killing at least 42. 

More than 100,000 have died in the Syrian war, and refugees from the conflict have also sought safety in Lebanon

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement called the bombing a terrorist attack.

“The United States strongly condemns today's senseless and despicable terrorist bombings at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut,” the statement said. “The details of today's attack are not yet clear, and we support the Government of Lebanon's commitment to conduct a thorough investigation.  We call on all parties to cooperate with the Lebanese government's investigation of this crime and urge that those responsible are brought to justice."  

Al Jazeera and wire services

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