International

Suspect arrested over Lebanon mosque bombings

Security forces make arrest as mourners begin to bury first of attack's 47 victims

Lebanese Sunni Sheikh Daei al-Islam al-Shahal (C) prays Saturday among people during the funeral of a victim (bottom) of the previous day's bombings in the northern city of Tripoli.
Ibrahim Chalhoub/ AFP/ Getty Images

Lebanese security forces arrested a suspect over a devastating double car bombing that left scores dead, it was reported Saturday, as mourners began to bury victims of one of the deadliest attacks since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990.

The National News Agency (NNA) said the suspect, Sheik Ahmad al-Ghareeb, appeared in surveillance video at the site of one of the explosions.

Police took him into custody at his home in the Miniyeh region outside Tripoli. The NNA reported that authorities confiscated “machine guns and hand grenades” at Ghareeb’s residence.

The coordinated explosions Friday outside two mosques in Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni city in the north of the country, raised already simmering sectarian tensions in Lebanon, heightening fears the country could be slipping into a cycle of revenge attacks between its Sunni and Shiite communities.

It has been repoprted that Ghareeb has ties to a Sunni organization, but one that enjoys good relations with Lebanon's powerful Shiite Hezbollah militant group.

It is feared that the bombings could also be seen as evidence that Syria's bloody civil war is increasingly drawing in its smaller neighbor.

Lebanese police officials said that 47 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in the attack. Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said some 300 people remained in the hospital Saturday, 65 of them in a critical condition.

In Tripoli, armed civilians set up checkpoints Saturday near the two mosques hit in the attacks, while Lebanese security forces patrolled the streets. A team of forensic experts was sifting through the mangled wreckage at the blast sites. Some residents used shovels and brooms to clean up shards of glass and shrapnel that littered the pavement in front of nearby shops.

The devices appear to have intentionally caused maximum civilian casualties, striking at midday Friday outside the Taqwa and Salam mosques, which are known to be filled with worshippers at that time on the Muslim day of prayer.

Local TV stations aired footage of the frantic first moments following the explosions: bodies scattered beside burning cars, charred victims trapped in smoking vehicles, bloodied casualties emerging from thick, black smoke and people shouting and screaming as they rushed victims away.

While the Lebanese government's official position on Syria is one of neutrality, both Hezbollah and radical Sunni groups in Lebanon have sent fighters into Syria to fight on opposing sides.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the blasts, but people in the city have pointed the finger at the Syrian government and its ally, Hezbollah.

Al-Qaeda's North African branch also blamed Hezbollah for the bombings and threatened vengeance, a U.S.-based intelligence monitoring website reported on Saturday.

Hezbollah in a statement condemned the blasts and expressed solidarity with the victims, saying they were target of efforts to fan more violence in Lebanon.

"We consider this the completion of an effort to plunge Lebanon into chaos and destruction," the statement said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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