BEIRUT (Alliance News) – Twenty-four people were killed Tuesday in a twin suicide bombing on the Iranian embassy in Beirut that an al-Qaeda-linked group said was carried out in retaliation for the Lebanese Hezbollah militia’s involvement in Syria’s civil war.
The attack by bombers on a motorcycle and in a car occurred in a largely Shiite area in southern Beirut that is home to Hezbollah members and Iranian diplomats. More than 146 people were injured.
The toll was expected to rise because many of the wounded were in critical condition, Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan al-Khalil said.
“The assault on the Iranian embassy in Beirut was a double martyrdom operation carried out by two heroes of the Sunni people in Lebanon,” said a Twitter post by Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, a spiritual leader of the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
Zuraiqat, who was jailed in Lebanon over his links to al-Qaeda and was released a year ago, said attacks would continue until the withdrawal from Syria of Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against largely Sunni rebels.
He also demanded the release of the group’s prisoners from Lebanese prisons.
The first of Tuesday’s two blasts occurred when an embassy guard shot a motorcyclist wearing an explosives belt who tried to force his way into the embassy compound, a Lebanese security officer said.
The second blast took place 40 meters away from the embassy entrance, said the official, who asked not to be named.
Video footage posted on Lebanese news websites showed charred cars and bloodied bodies on the main street outside the embassy. Several buildings were damaged, and the street was covered with glass and debris.
Among the dead was cultural envoy Ibrahim Ansari, Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television.
Sources close to the Iranian embassy also said Iranian security guards were among the dead and wounded.
The bombing was the third this year in areas of Beirut controlled by Hezbollah, whose decision to send militiamen to Syria to fight against Sunni rebels armed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states has prompted sectarian bloodshed in Lebanon.
A bombing in southern Beirut in August killed 22 people while a July blast there injured 53.
Supporters and opponents of al-Assad have fought deadly street clashes, mainly in the northern city of Tripoli, where a twin bombing in a largely Sunni area in August killed about 43 people.
Hezbollah admitted this year that it had sent fighters to Syria, and the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed this month to keep them there as long as needed.
Tuesday’s attack was the latest sign that Syria’s civil war, which started in early 2011 with peaceful street protests, could spark a wider conflict in the Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for influence.
Lebanon has been without a government since caretaker premier Najib Mikati resigned in March because of deepening divisions on several domestic issues and the crisis in Syria.
Tuesday’s bombing was “strongly” condemned by the UN Security Council, which called it a “heinous crime” against the people and government of Iran.
The Iranian embassy said it would receive condolences for the Lebanese and Iranian victims of the bombing on Wednesday and Thursday.