At least 32 people have been killed and nearly 150 injured in a double bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut.
An al-Qaeda cell, the Abdullah Azzam brigade claimed responsibility for the attack, which damaged six buildings in the embassy compound, and surrounding vehicles and buildings. Abdullah Azzam claimed “two martyrs, Sunni heroes of Lebanon” carried out the bombings.
There are conflicting reports about the attack, and casualties. One eyewitness said two rockets had been fired at the compound, while an Iranian security guard said a suicide bomber had turned up at the main gate and detonated his device before a second bomber arrived in a car with a much larger device.
The Iranians say none of their personnel has been hurt, but the Lebanese authorities say the cultural attache was killed outside as he was making his way to work..
The embassy is in the upmarket Janah district in the Lebanese capital, a Hezbollah stronghold. Iran is one of Hezbollah’s main backers and both support the Bassar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Hezbollah commands respect among many Lebanese for its opposition to Israel, but is predominantly Shia Muslim in a country whose religious and ethnic patchwork makes for a fragile society where Shia, Sunni, Christian and other faiths have bitter memories of the country’s long civil war towards the end of the last century. Lebanon’s Sunnis have few reasons to like Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s support for Assad in Syria, Lebanon’s former master and occupier, has raised tensions and there have been several anti-Hezbollah attacks in southern Beirut in recent months. Although this is not a direct attack on Hezbollah, it is by far the worst in the area from which it draws most of its electoral support.
With Iranian soldiers also fighting alongside Hezbollah and the regime’s forces in Syria against mainly Sunni opponents, the potential for the conflict to spread into Lebanon is huge and may explain why the Iranians have been targeted.
Iran’s immediate reaction was to say that the attack only served the interests of Israel, and that anyone who carried it out knew that only too well.