Explosions near two Sunni Muslim mosques in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli during Friday prayers killed at least 29 people and wounded more than 500, the official National News Agency said.
One blast targeted Al Taqwa Mosque where radical Sunni cleric Sheikh Salem al-Rafei leads prayers. He wasn’t harmed, NNA said. The second hit near the entrance of the Salam mosque, not far from the house of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati, who wasn’t in Tripoli at the time, according to NNA.
The explosion at Salam Mosque resulted from a car bomb laden with 100 kilograms of explosives, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told New TV.
The Salam Mosque blast went off as worshipers were bent in prayer, listening to a sermon by Sheikh Bilal Baroudi, according to footage shown on LBC TV. Worshipers ran out of the mosque amid a thick cloud of dust.
The bombings occurred at a time of heightened tensions between Sunni and Shiite communities as the sectarian war in Syria spills into Lebanon. Tripoli has seen frequent clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two mosques hit today are led by clerics who have been supportive of the mostly Sunni rebels seeking to topple Assad, who is Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Al-Rafei has called for a holy war to help oust Assad.
Avoid Civil War
Officials called for calm, urging people not to let their emotions draw Lebanon into a civil war.
“We should avoid strife,” said caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, according to NNA. Caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi said the attackers were seeking to ignite “strife between Sunnis and Shiites” in Lebanon, in an e-mailed statement.
The blasts are “mostly likely a response from a pro-Syrian or Shiite-affiliated group seeking reprisal for what has happened in the past month following explosions in Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut,” Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in Doha, Qatar said by phone.
The blasts were the third and fourth to hit Lebanon since July. The previous two occurred in the Shiite militant Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut’s southern suburb. The first wounded more than 50, while the second killed at least 27 people.
Hezbollah called today’s attacks a “terrorist” act aiming at “dragging” the Lebanese into civil war, according to an e-mailed statement. “Hezbollah expresses extreme pain” for the loss of life in Tripoli,’’ it said.