Lebanon observes day of mourning for 45 killed in twin car bombings

Lebanon observes day of mourning for 45 killed in twin car bombings

TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Agence France-Press
Lebanon observes day of mourning for 45 killed in twin car bombings

Lebanese Red Cross volunteers raise up their hands, as they gather around a word spelling out 'Peace' using candles during a peace festival held by the Lebanese Red Cross, in downtown Beirut, Aug. 23. AP photo

Mourners buried dozens killed in bombings outside two Sunni mosques in the Lebanese city of Tripoli as the country observed a day of national mourning on Aug. 24 under tight security.

Soldiers on foot and in armoured vehicles patrolled the tense northern city, which has been riven by strife over Syria's conflict, and the normally busy streets were deserted.

Armed men in civilian clothing stood watch outside the headquarters of political parties and at the houses of MPs and religious officials.

The attack - the deadliest in Lebanon since its 1975-1990 civil war - drew strong condemnation from the international community.

Coming a week after a bombing in the Beirut bastion of Shiite movement Hezbollah, a close ally of Bashar al-Assad, the bombings risk further stoking tensions between supporters and foes of the Syrian president.

The blasts hit during weekly Muslim prayers, in a city where Sunni supporters of Syria's rebels engage in often deadly clashes with Alawites who back al- Assad.

The first bomb struck in the city centre at the Al-Salam mosque as worshippers were still inside.  CCTV footage showed people sitting on the floor when the explosion hit, and scattering in panic.

The second explosion struck minutes later outside Al-Taqwa mosque, about two kilometres (a little more than a mile) away, near the port.

A security source put the toll at 45 dead, while the Lebanese Red Cross said at least 500 people were wounded, of whom 280 were still in hospital.

An AFP reporter saw a number of charred bodies near Al-Taqwa and the bodies of five children brought out of it.

Hezbullah links blasts to BEirut attack

As huge clouds of black smoke billowed into the air, television broadcast footage of the dead, of buildings with their fronts blown in and vehicles ablaze.

Hundreds of furious people gathered outside the Al-Taqwa mosque shouting curses at Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The powerful Shiite movement, whose militia have been fighting for months alongside Assad's troops, linked the Tripoli attacks to the one in Beirut on August 15, which killed 22 people and injured more than 300.

It said they were part of a plan to "plunge Lebanon into chaos and destruction". Former premier Saad Hariri, a Sunni and opponent of Hezbollah, said the "authors of dissension do not want Lebanon to live in peace for one minute; they want the killing machine to mow down the lives of innocents across Lebanon".

Hariri's father and former billionaire prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated in a 2005 car bombing in Beirut that also killed another 22 people which was, until Friday, the worst attack since the civil war.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati declared Aug. 23 a day of national mourning. Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi condemned this "cowardly terrorist attack on our brothers in Tripoli," in a statement echoed by Iran.

'Total war'

On Aug. 23, army chief General Jean Kahwaji had said his forces were fighting a "total war" against terrorism whose aim is "to provoke sectarian strife" in Lebanon.

A Lebanese and two Palestinians suspected of preparing a car bomb attack were arrested days after the latest blast in Beirut, the General Security agency said.

Tripoli has seen frequent Syria-related violence during the past two years, including waves of deadly clashes.