At least two explosions were reported Tuesday morning near the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
The Lebanese Health Ministry reported that at least 23 people were killed and 146 injured in the blast. The Iranian ambassador confirmed reports that an Iranian cultural attache was critically injured in the explosion and later died from his wounds.
Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Rokn Abadi identified the dead diplomat as Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari. Speaking to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV from inside the embassy compound, he said Ansari took his post in Lebanon a month ago and was overseeing all regional cultural activities. Al-Manar reported that the street targeted by the suicide bombers includes a building where some of the Iranian diplomats and their families live.
“People aren’t sacred anymore. We aren’t safe,” said a mechanic whose store windows were shattered by the blasts. He declined to be identified because he did not want to be seen as involved in sectarian tensions that have split the Lebanese over Syria’s conflict.
“People fight outside (Lebanon), but send their messages through Lebanon. With bombs. It’s their SMS service,” he added.
Abadi blamed Israel, but the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a group linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the blast, according to Reuters.
At least six buildings in the embassy compound were damaged in the blasts.
Lebanon’s state news agency said a preliminary investigation showed that the first blast was set off by a suicide bomber and the second explosion a car bomb that went off once people arrived on the scene to help.
Initial reports had indicated a rocket attack might have been behind the blasts.
A heavy security presence descended on the area followed the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The blasts in south Beirut’s neighborhood of Janah also caused extensive damage in nearby buildings. The main, black gate of the Iranian embassy was blown out and there was damage to the three-story facility. It was not known if anyone inside was hurt.
Debris was scattered on the street and cars were on fire as people ran away from the chaotic scene. The second blast was meters (yards) away from the embassy.
An armed guard of the Iranian embassy told AP that the first blast was believed to have been carried out by a suicide attacker who rode a motorcycle and blew himself outside the gate. The other explosion, which caused much more damage, was a car bomb, the guard said.
A charred motorcycle stood outside the gate. TV footage showed at least two dead people in the street nearby. Other wounded men covered with blood were seen across the street of the embassy.
A report from Lebanese news site Naharnet said that several guards at the embassy and a clergyman had been injured in the blast. Lebanese officials told Al Jazeera that the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon was unharmed.
The area is a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group, which is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war next door. It’s not clear if the blasts are related to Syria’s civil war.
The neighborhood has been hit by several explosions in the past weeks which killed and wounded scores.