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Saturday 17 August 2019

Dozens die as twin suicide blasts hit Shiite district in Beirut

The attack happened in a Shiite suburb of Beirut (AP)
The attack happened in a Shiite suburb of Beirut (AP)

At least 37 people died when twin suicide bombings struck a southern Beirut suburb that is a stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah group on Thursday.

Scores more were wounded in one of the deadliest attacks in years in Lebanon.

The attack was quickly claimed by the extremists Islamic State group, which is fighting in Syria and Iraq but has until now not had a recognised affiliate in Lebanon, though the tiny Mediterranean country has in the past years faced deadly spillovers from the civil war next door.

The explosions hit minutes apart during rush hour in an area called Burj al-Barajneh. Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria with President Bashar Assad's forces. The area has been hit in the past and Sunni militant groups have threatened to carry out more such attacks.

Along with the 37 killed, the attack also left more than 180 wounded, said George Kittaneh, head of the Lebanese Red Cross operations.

It was not immediately clear how many attackers were involved. According to a Lebanese security official, the first suicide attacker detonated his explosives' vest outside a Shiite mosque, while the second blew himself up inside a nearby bakery.

An apparent third attacker was found dead, his legs blown off while he still wore an intact explosives' belt.

The Al-Mayadeen TV also reported there was a third would-be suicide attacker, and showed a video of a bearded young man who wore an explosives' belt. The report said he was killed before he was able to detonate his explosives.

Hospitals in southern Beirut were calling on people to donate blood and appealed to residents not to gather at the hospital gates so that ambulances and emergency staff could work unhindered.

Shortly after the explosions, ambulances rushed to the area and started evacuating the wounded and the dead as Lebanese troops and Hezbollah gunmen cordoned the area, preventing anyone from getting close to the sites of the blasts, less than 50 metrees apart.

"There is a massacre inside and we will not let you take photos," a Hezbollah member screamed at an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

Hezbollah also called on people to leave all coffee shops in the area, which are usually packed with people, and urged residents to inform the group about any suspicious moves.

IS posted its claim of responsibility for the bombings on social media pages.

IS said the attack was carried out by detonating an explosives-laden motorcycle close to a gathering of Shiites - a likely reference to the mosque - and followed by a suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest. The statement made no mention of a third would-be bomber.

This is the second attack to date that has been claimed by the IS in Beirut, after a January 2014 bombing in the district of Haret Hreik, also a Shiite district.

PA Media

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