|Explosion in Tripoli kills five people, including four soldiers
|Army Command says 'terrorist act' aims to derail reconciliation efforts
A devastating explosion ripped through a bus packed with Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldiers in Tripoli on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding at least 33 others.
The blast happened during the morning rush hour, at about 7.45 a.m., in the Al-Bahsas area of the city. A parked car rigged with explosives was remotely detonated as the bus passed by. About 20 soldiers were traveling in the bus at the time of the explosion, and four were killed, along with a civilian passer-by. The blast also destroyed several nearby cars and shop fronts.
The dead soldiers were identified as Fouad Qadaweh, Ali Mohammed al-Ali, Anwar al-Khatib and Ahmad Shehab.
Many of the injured were taken to the nearby hospitals for treatment. Workers from the Haikal hospital said that families of the dead and wounded had gathered there in the hours after the bombing to seek information about their loved ones, and that the treatment of military and civilian casualties was "ongoing."
At the Al-Nini hospital, staff said on Monday afternoon that they were treating four or five people in a "serious condition" as a result of the blast, and one patient had died.
The bomb was packed with metal balls to maximize the damage it caused. The army immediately sealed off the area and began investigations at the scene. Marwan Abdul Salam Sabra, the man who owned the car used in the blast, was taken in for questioning. Security sources told The Daily Star that he had parked his car at the blast site on Sunday evening, and they believed the bomb was planted without his knowledge overnight.
The source said that the blast site was overlooked by hills from which the remote detonation could have taken place.
Monday's blast is the second such incident in Tripoli in as many months. In August, an almost identical attack left 15 people dead when a bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated at a bus stop in the city. The army was the apparent target of both attacks.
Army Command released a statement in which it said that this "new terrorist act" was trying to derail Lebanon's reconciliation process. It said a military investigation had begun to track down those responsible.
The bombing prompted an emergency meeting between Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud and Defence Minister Elias Murr. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the attack was an act of revenge against the army and pledged that Lebanon would confront the "bloody challenge" of terrorism.
Tripoli had been enjoying a period of relative stability following a peace deal signed earlier this month between Sunnis loyal to Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri and Alawites who support closer links to Syria. Fighting between the two factions over the summer had left at least 22 people dead, but violence has calmed in recent weeks.
The blast came two days after a massive explosion in the Syrian capital Damascus which left 17 people dead. The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said on Monday that an Islamist suicide bomber from a neighboring Arab country was responsible for Saturday's explosion. It did not specify the country, but several commentators in Syria have accused Lebanon-based militants of carrying out the attack.
Earlier this month, Syrian president Bashar Assad warned of "extremist forces" operating in and around Tripoli, and analysts said that the two explosions could be related.
"There could be a link," said Ahmad Mousalli, an expert in Islamic extremism at the American University of Beirut. "We are seeing these jihadist groups are ready to take on the state. They have the ideology, and they have the means."
He warned that there could be further trouble in coming months. "I'm expecting further attacks on civilians and the military," he said. "We are beyond a peaceful settlement with these groups. They are going to create problems."
Others pointed to common traits between the attacks on military targets in Tripoli that suggested that those behind the blasts were well organized.
"It's becoming a pattern," retired LAF General Elias Hanna, now a senior lecturer at Notre Dame University, told The Daily Star. "The terrorists are highly rational, and they are proficient enough to plan, carry out, and create an exit strategy for these attacks. They hit at the softest point."
He added that that the method used was a technique that had spread through the region since the US-led invasion of Iraq. "The use of IED's [improvised explosive devices] has proliferated. The knowledge is easy to access," he said.
He warned that militant Islamists who had traveled to Iraq to fight against US forces may have returned to Lebanon armed with the practical skills to wreak havoc on the local population. "When these people are squeezed in Iraq they go to the safest place, which in Lebanon are the camps. So in a sense what we see today is a direct result of [US military commander] General [David] Petraeus' success in Iraq."
He warned that the only way to combat the problem of Islamic extremism was with reliable intelligence about the groups behind the blasts. "This is an intelligence war, not a war of brute force," he said.
The Daily Star