BEIRUT, Lebanon — At least 43 people were killed and around 200 injured in a twin suicide bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Thursday evening.
The explosions tore through crowds on a busy street in the neighborhood of Bourj el-Barajneh, close to Beirut's airport, shortly after 6 p.m.
Witnesses told GlobalPost that the first bomb exploded outside a coffee shop. Around seven minutes later, as crowds gathered and the injured were being taken away, a second suicide bomber detonated his device.
“My friend saw the second guy and tried to stop him. He wrapped his arms around him and then it exploded,” said Hussein, a resident of the neighborhood. The friend's name was Adel Turmuss, a 28-year-old furniture maker from the area.
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The Lebanese Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said a third suicide bomber was killed in the second explosion.
The extremist-Sunni Islamic State (IS) released a statement claiming the attacks, carried out in a predominantly Shia neighborhood.
"Soldiers of the caliphate blew themselves up in the stronghold of the heretics, and after the apostates crowded around the site of the explosion, a second martyr blew himself up using his explosive belt," the statement read.
IS and other extremist groups such as the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra have frequently targeted civilians in Beirut’s largely Shia southern suburbs, carrying out a string of attacks in 2013 and 2014. The groups claim the attacks are retribution for the involvement of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia militant group and political party, in Syria’s civil war. There hadn't been a fresh attack before Thursday, however, since June last year.
Hezbollah has committed thousands of its fighters to the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against rebels trying to overthrow his regime.
IS, which declared a caliphate covering large parts of Iraq and Syria in June last year, fights against both the Syrian rebels and Assad’s forces and allies.
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In the hours after the attack Thursday, crowds gathered at the site of the bombings. Lebanese army soldiers and Hezbollah gunmen patrolled the area while forensic teams sifted through the wreckage.
Shattered glass and debris were strewn over the pavement. Blood — pooled in the street and spattered on a nearby wall — marked the spot of the second attack.
At a nearby hospital, dozens gathered outside the gates searching for news of their relatives. One woman had to be carried away after she fainted with grief.
“This will change nothing,” said one bystander, in reference to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
Another resident, when asked whether he was worried about further attacks, said: “We didn’t feel safe before. We expected this to happen.”
Lebanon’s prime minister, Tammam Salam, declared Friday a day of mourning. Schools and universities will be closed.