Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Man held over Lebanon bombings

Syria's civil war has split Lebanon along sectarian lines between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad's regime

Lebanese security forces have arrested a suspect in connection with the devastating double bombing the day before that killed at least 47 people in the northern city of Tripoli, the state news agency said.

The National News Agency identified the suspect as Sheik Ahmad al-Ghareeb, and said police took him into custody at his home in the Miniyeh region outside Tripoli. It said al-Ghareeb, who has ties to a Sunni organisation that enjoys good relations with Lebanon's powerful Shiite Hezbollah militant group, appears in surveillance video at the site of one of the explosions.

The coordinated explosions on Friday outside two mosques in Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni city, raised already simmering sectarian tensions in fragile Lebanon, heightening fears the country could be slipping into a cycle of revenge attacks between its Sunni and Shiite communities. For many Lebanese, the bombings also were seen as the latest evidence that Syria's bloody civil war - with its dark sectarian overtones - is increasingly drawing in its smaller neighbour.

Lebanese police officials said 47 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in the attack. Some 300 people were still in the hospital a day after the attack, 65 of them in critical condition.

In Tripoli, armed civilians set up checkpoints 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 explosions were clearly intended to cause maximum civilian casualties as they struck at midday on 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 there has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks, many here link them to the civil war next door in Syria, where a Sunni-led insurgency is fighting to oust a regime dominated by President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Hezbollah has openly declared its guerrillas are fighting alongside Assad's forces against the Syrian rebels, who enjoy both sympathy and support from many in Lebanon's Sunni community.

Hezbollah's overt role in the Syrian civil war has sent sectarian tensions soaring in Lebanon, and street clashes have erupted on numerous occasions in recent months. Preachers at both of the mosques targeted Friday are virulent critics of both Hezbollah and Assad.

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