Lebanon under at­tack

Eight sui­cide bombers strike Al-Qaa vil­lage, killing five, wound­ing more than 30

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hus­sein Dakroub and Hanan Khaled

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.

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