BEIRUT (AP) — A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle Friday near a police checkpoint in eastern Lebanon, killing one person amid rising fears of renewed violence in this volatile country sparked by a stunning offensive by Sunni insurgents in nearby Iraq.
Lebanon’s state-run news agency and security officials said the blast struck the town of Dahr el-Baidar, at the entrance to eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on a busy highway that links Lebanon’s and Syria’s capitals. Troops sealed the area around the explosion.
Lt. Col. Joseph Msallam, a police spokesman, said the explosion killed an officer and wounded 19, including six police officers.
The official National News Agency said Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the powerful head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, had driven past the site of the explosion in his convoy shortly before the blast. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Syria’s civil war has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon on multiple occasions and inflamed sectarian tensions. A series of car bombs have struck Shiite areas across Lebanon, killing dozens of people. Friday’s explosion, however, was the first in several months and came against the backdrop of soaring in tensions in the region after Sunni insurgents seized vast swaths of territory in northern Iraq.
The attack also coincided with a series of raids in the Lebanese capital following reports of a plot to target security posts.
Security forces raided at least two hotels in Beirut’s bustling Hamra district Friday over suspected “terrorists” inside, a police official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with security regulations and said several arrests were made.
The National News Agency said security forces detained 30 suspects in the raids, some of whom had entered Lebanon carrying Arab passports.
US Ambassador David Hale cancelled a visit Friday to the Foreign Ministry for security reasons, the National News Agency said. The US Embassy and the United Nations refugee agency also canceled a meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon in Beirut for security reasons.
A meeting organized by Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim Amal party scheduled to take place in Beirut was postponed. The party is headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who was expected to attend the meeting. The event was scrapped based on information received by the Interior Ministry of a terrorist attack that was being planned, a security official said.
Following the bombing, troops began enforcing strict measures at all entrances to Beirut’s southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group, setting up checkpoints and searching cars.
Security forces also deployed on all the entrances of Beirut, preventing trucks from entering the Lebanese capital for fear of more bombings.
The Lebanese are deeply split over the civil war in neighboring Syria and have lined up behind opposing sides in that conflict.
The last explosion to hit Lebanon occurred on March 29, when a suicide bomber in an explosives-laden car targeted a Lebanese army checkpoint near the Syrian border, killing three people. Earlier in the year, a series of car bombs struck Shiite areas across Lebanon, killing and wounding hundreds of people. Hard-line Sunni groups have claimed responsibility for those killings, saying they are meant to punish Hezbollah for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The group is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces, further inflaming sectarian tensions with Lebanon’s Sunnis.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.