Lebanon mourns dozens of victims from twin suicide bombings

Islamic Extremism

Mideast Lebanon Lebanese army soldiers and Hezbollah members gather at the scene of Thursday’s twin suicide bombings in Burj al-Barajneh, southern Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Schools and universities across Lebanon were shuttered Friday as the country mourned victims of twin suicide bombings that struck a crowded neighborhood south of the capital.

The bombings Thursday killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 200 others, shattering a relative calm that has held for more than a year despite the civil war raging next door in Syria.

The extremist Islamic State group claimed the attack on the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Burj al-Barajneh. The heavily populated district is part of the southern suburb of Beirut known as Dahyeh were the militant Hezbollah group holds sway.

On Friday, forensic experts dressed in white were working in the area, which was sealed off by security forces. Residents and shop owners swept up broken glass and other debris from the scene of the attacks.

“They are people without conscience. May they get worse than what happened to us,” said Nazmiyeh Tarif, whose cousin Adel Termos, died in the second bombing. Local media reports said Termos threw himself at the second suicide bomber after he spotted him approaching crowds gathered outside a mosque targeted by the first bomber.

At the Rasoul al-Aazam hospital, people turned up Friday to collect the bodies of their loved ones. Some fired into the air with automatic rifles outside the hospital, a typical sign of mourning in Lebanon.

Security was much tighter than usual at entrances to Beirut’s southern suburbs, and soldiers at army checkpoints asked for people’s IDs and searched cars.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam chaired a security meeting to discuss the bombings, with participants observing a moment of silence for the dead.

“The barbaric crime that took place in Burj al-Barajneh did not target just one region or sect but all of Lebanon from one end to the other,” Salam said.

Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country with a history of civil war, has seen deadly spillovers from the Syrian conflict including a wave of bombings and suicide attacks in 2013 and 2014. But Thursday’s twin blast was the first since mid-2014 and took people by surprise. It was also one of the deadliest.

The explosions hit minutes apart during rush hour, turning the crowded area into a nighttime inferno. A first suicide attacker detonated his explosives vest outside a Shiite mosque, while the second blew himself up inside a nearby bakery.

For more than an hour, ambulances struggled to ferry the wounded and the dead from the neighborhood while Lebanese troops and Hezbollah gunmen cordoned off the area, preventing anyone from getting close to the site of the two blasts, less than 50 meters (yards) apart.

Previous explosions have also targeted Shiite populated areas of Lebanon and have been claimed by militants who say it was payback for Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war. The group has been fighting in Syria along with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Associated Press