At least 43 people were killed Thursday evening in a twin suicide attack in a suburb of southern Beirut controlled by Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the Lebanese Health Ministry said.
The ministry said 239 people were injured, and that “many were in critical condition.”
Police said two men on foot set off suicide vests minutes apart during rush hour, in front of a shopping center in the suburb of Bourj el-Barajneh. The army claimed to have found the body of a third terrorist who was unable to detonate his belt.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings that detonated around 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT), witnesses said.
Lebanon Red Cross Update: 23 killed and 180 injured Hospital in south Beirut asking for blood donation. pic.twitter.com/71d0vsRlze
— Nasser Atta (@nasseratta5) November 12, 2015
Southern Beirut is a stronghold of Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria along with government forces there. The area has been hit in the past and Sunni militant groups have threatened to carry out more such attacks.
According to a Lebanese security official, the first suicide attacker detonated his explosives’ vest outside a Shiite Mosque, while the second blew himself up inside a nearby bakery.
An apparent third suicide attacker was found dead, still wearing an intact explosives’ belt, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. He speculated the third man may have been killed from the explosion of the second suicide attacker, as he was reportedly close to that blast.
The pan-Arabic Al-Mayadeen TV network also reported there was a third would-be suicide attacker, describing him as a bearded young man who wore an explosives’ belt. The report said he was killed before he was able to detonate the explosives.
An AFP photographer saw extensive damage to buildings around the site of the blast and bodies inside some of the nearby shops.
Hospitals in southern Beirut were calling on people to donate blood and appealed on residents not to gather at the hospital gates so that ambulances and emergency staff could work unhindered.
Shortly after the explosions, ambulances rushed to the area and started evacuating the wounded and the dead, as Lebanese troops and Hezbollah gunmen cordoned the area, preventing anyone from getting close.
“There is a massacre inside and we will not let you take photos,” a Hezbollah member screamed at an Associated Press photographer at the scene.
An hour later, ambulance sirens could still be heard in Beirut streets.
Hezbollah also called on people to leave all coffee shops in the area, which are usually packed with people, and urged residents to inform the group about any suspicious moves.
The blast is the first to target Beirut’s southern suburbs since June 2014, when a suicide car bomb killed a security officer who had tried to stop the bomber.
But prior to that, a string of attacks targeted Hezbollah strongholds throughout the country.
Between July 2013 and February 2014, there were nine attacks on Hezbollah bastions, most claimed by Sunni extremists.
The groups claimed the attacks were in revenge for Hezbollah’s decision to send thousands of fighters into neighboring Syria to support President Bashar Assad’s forces against a Sunni-dominated uprising.
French President Francois Hollande condemned the “despicable” twin bomb attack on Thursday.
“The president of the republic expresses his indignation and horror after the attack that killed several dozen people and wounded more than 100 this afternoon in the Burj al-Barajneh neighbourhood of Beirut,” he said in a statement issued by the presidency.
“The French share in the national mourning of the Lebanese. France is more than ever committed to peace, unity and stability in Lebanon,” Hollande said.