Lebanon under attack
Eight suicide bombers strike Al-Qaa village, killing five, wounding more than 30
BEIRUT: Terrorism struck twice in a Christian village near the border with Syria at dawn and at night Monday, killing five people and wounding more than 30 others in a wave of suspected Daesh (ISIS) suicide bombings.
The multiple attacks, involving eight suicide bombers, were the largest yet in the latest bloody spillover of the 5-year-old war in Syria into Lebanon which revived fears of a return to suicide blasts that had targeted the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah areas in the past.
Four suicide bombers struck the northeastern village of Al-Qaa Monday night, wounding 13 people, 18 hours after four suicide bombings had killed five people and wounded 19 others in the same village, security and military sources said.
The sources said the two bombers, who had arrived on motorcycles, had blown themselves up outside Mar Elias Church in Al-Qaa.
A third suicide bomber blew himself up near a Lebanese Army vehicle, while the fourth one detonated his explosive belt at an Army Intelligence post, causing no casualties among soldiers, the sources said. Both bombers had been intercepted by soldiers.
Reports said the bombers struck during funeral preparations at the church for a victim of the attack earlier in the day.
Four suicide bombers had detonated their explosive belts in Al-Qaa about 18 hours earlier, killing six people and wounding 19 others.
Security forces have called on residents in the town to remain at home and avoid crowding around the attack site to avoid a repeat of the early morning bombings which took place in succession as soldiers, medics and civilians gathered.
Although there was no immediate responsibility for the suicide bombings, a senior military official told The Daily Star Monday night that Daesh was behind them.
The bombings alerted Lebanese leaders who called for heightened vigilance and combined efforts to thwart attempts aimed at destabilizing the country by Daesh and Nusra Front militants entrenched on the outskirts of Lebanon’s northeastern border.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, who visited the bombing site, vowed to continue the military’s relentless battle against Islamist militant groups, which pose a permanent threat to the country’s security and stability with their attacks on Army positions in the area.
The Army said in a statement that a suicide bomber blew himself up around 4:20 a.m. near the residence of a Lebanese national in Al-Qaa. That explosion was followed by three others on the road near that house.
Four soldiers on a patrol were wounded while heading to the site of the first explosion. The blasts took place about 10 minutes apart, the source said.
A senior military official said the four suicide bombers came from Syrian territory, and not from Syrian refugee camps erected in Lebanese towns near the border with Syria.
“Three of the attackers are Syrians while the nationality of the fourth has not been determined yet,” the official told The Daily Star.
He said the attackers had planned either to target a funeral in Al-Qaa or other Lebanese areas.
The Army had deployed in the bombing sites and asked citizens to remain in their homes over fears that other suicide bombers may plan further attacks.
The Army estimated that the explosive belts used in the bombings weighed around 2 kilograms each.
Lebanese troops cordoned off the bombing site and were searching the village and nearby villages for suspects as forensics experts inspected the area.
Residents said the four attackers raised suspicions when they passed through the village before dawn.
When civilian village guards called out to them, they threw a hand grenade.
The town’s mayor, Bashir Matar, said residents began gathering after
the first explosion, and that the other bombers targeted the crowd, one after the other.
“As we were treating some of the wounded, I saw the fourth suicide attacker coming toward me. I shouted at him,” Matar told a local TV station. “We opened fire toward him and he blew himself up.”
Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared Tuesday a national day of mourning, calling on all Lebanese to stand five minutes in silence in respect to the victims of the bombings. Salam said the multiple bombings in Al-Qaa indicated “the nature of evil plots set for Lebanon” and called on Lebanese to be vigilant.
“This terrorist operation proves that our stability is targeted by the powers of darkness. The only way to fortify it [stability] is by standing united behind our army and security forces and agencies in their battle against terrorism and boosting our national unity and strengthening our internal political front,” Salam said in a statement. He called for maintaining the “highest degree of vigilance and alertness to nip these plots in the bud.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri denounced the “terrorist attacks” that targeted Al-Qaa,, saying it was organized in the “caves of obscurity, and a link in a hellish chain that plans to extend the Syrian fire to neighboring countries, and spread chaos in all societies.”
“A few days ago, the Jordanian border with Syria witnessed a similar suicide attack, and a number of border guards were killed,” Hariri said in a statement released by his media office. “Today the Lebanese people wake up to the news of an unprecedented suicide attack that provides further evidence of the necessity to mobilize all efforts to address the dangers threatening Lebanon.”
The Army chief called for stricter security measures along the frontier with Syria. After visiting Al-Qaa, Kahwagi said the fact that the militants blew themselves up instantly before moving to other areas is “a clear proof” that the Army and citizens are vigilant to thwart the “terrorists’ plans.”
“The Army has full will and capability to continue its fight against this terrorism, which does not differentiate in its brutal crimes between one sect and another,” Kahwagi said, adding: “No terrorist attack, no matter how big, will affect the Army’s firm decision in fighting terrorism, protecting Lebanon and maintaining its stability.”
Hours after the bombings, the Army pounded militant positions on the outskirts Al-Qaa.
The Army also detonated a hand grenade that was discovered in the area of the explosion.
Lebanese security services have been on heightened alert for militant attacks in recent weeks. Daesh had urged its followers to launch attacks on “nonbelievers” during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began in early June.
Al-Qaa is a Christian village of 12,000 residents situated several kilometers north of Ras Baalbek. Al-Qaa and Ras Baalbek are the only two villages with a Christian majority in the predominantly Shiite Hermel region, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
Hundreds of Daesh militants are holed up on the eastern outskirts of the towns. Lebanese troops regularly pound the militants’ positions and convoys with artillery and airstrikes.
The area of Masharih al-Qaa – a predominantly Sunni area near Al-Qaa – is home to a large number of Syrian refugees who have fled the war in Syria. Al-Qaa is located about 50 kilometers north of the city of Baalbek, where Hezbollah holds sway.
Lebanon has been repeatedly jolted by militant attacks linked to the war in neighboring Syria. The last suicide attack to rock Lebanon was on Nov. 12, 2015, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up on a busy street in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut’s southern suburbs, killing 47 people and wounding over 200 others. The attack was claimed by Daesh.
Forensic teams gather evidence at the site of the explosions in the northeastern border village of Al-Qaa.