Blasts in Beirut signal wider Middle East war

0 0
Read Time:4 Minute, 30 Second
BEIRUT — The bombing attack outside the Iran embassy here Tuesday shows that the Syrian civil war may be hastening open warfare between the two main branches of Islam and lead to attacks throughout the Middle East.
The admitted perpetrators of the terror attack, which killed 23 people, is the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Palestinian affiliate of al-Qaeda in Lebanon.
Sheik Sirajedine Zureikat, a cleric linked to the group, announced via Twitter that the attack was in retaliation against the U.S.-designated terror group Hezbollah. Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim group, is fighting in Syria on behalf of Iran and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad against rebels made up of Sunni Muslims. Al-Qaeda is a largely Sunni Muslim group.
"The attacks will be ongoing in Lebanon until Iran's party (Hezbollah) retreats from Syria and our prisoners are freed from Lebanese prisons," tweeted the cleric.
Sunni factions in Lebanon are increasingly at odds with Hezbollah, which has been supported for years by Iran, the largest Shiite nation in the Middle East. Nations lined up against Iran include the Sunni Gulf states, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest.
Hezbollah, whose political party dominates the Lebanon legislature, has been sending fighters and equipment to aid Syria in its battle to put down a Sunni rebellion that erupted in early 2011. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the war.
That conflict has been forcing Sunnis and Shiites in neighboring Lebanon to take sides and there have been outbreaks of killings between the two. But Tuesday's suicide bombing could ramp up the violence.
"Today's operation begins a new phase of bombings, with the first suicide attacks to take place in Lebanon in recent years," says Kassem Kassir, a Beirut-based analyst specializing in Islamic organizations.
"An operation at such a scale cannot take place without the backing of a regional power," he added, though he would not specify which regional power he suspected of being behind the attack."
The explosions took place before noon in the Jnah neighborhood of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. Iranian Cultural Counselor Sheik Ibrahim Al-Ansari was reported by the Lebanon state media as being among the victims.
"This is a direct strike on Iranian interests," said Julien Barnes-Dacey of the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations. "This is the second time in recent months that a Hezbollah-controlled area of Beirut has been targeted. So clearly there is a possibility that this is going to escalate that cycle of violence."
An Aug. 15 car bombing in the southern suburbs of Beirut killed 27 people and wounded more than 300. A less powerful car bomb targeted the same area on July 9, wounding more than 50 people.
Barnes-Dacey said many in Lebanon have bitter memories of that country's long, bloody civil war in the 1980s and have little desire to repeat it.
"There is a resilience to Lebanon, to the population at large, but also to the political leaders across the spectrum," he said. "They're very aware of the danger at hand."
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades were formed by Saleh al-Qarawi in 2000 as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq and are named after one of al-Qaeda's co-founders who was Osama bin Laden's mentor. Qarawi is believed to have fought alongside Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a former al-Qaeda leader in Iraq killed by U.S. forces in 2006.
The brigades are comprised of a number of subgroups, including the Ziad al-Jarrah battalion responsible for numerous rocket attacks against Israel. In a recent statement, Majid al-Majid, a leader in the group, called on Sunnis in Lebanon to fight Hezbollah and its interests.
The group has also voiced support for jihad in Syria and is sending fighters there to combat Assad and Hezbollah, acknowledged Mounir Maqdah, a commander of the PLO-linked group Fatah in Lebanon.
Al-Qaeda's strengthening ties with Sunni militants and terrorist groups in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, and the concurrent growing alliance of Shiite Hezbollah and Iran is threatening to ignite major unrest in the region, say analysts.
"Like many small radical organizations, the Azzam Brigades have taken a transnational form, and Lebanese divisions are allowing for the convergence of fighters in the country from across the region," Kassir says.
Palestinian sources in Lebanon's largest refugee camp, Ain al-Helweh, have noted the growing coordination between various radical factions and the Syrian rebel group Nusra Front, which has been labeled a terror organization by the U.S. State Department.
Many in Lebanon say they are afraid that the violence is going to spin out of control.
"We cannot keep Lebanon out of this war," said Nazida Arzouni, 47, in Beirut. "It's logical — Syria is so close to Lebanon."
Others hoped for the best.
"We have to keep doing what we do," said Michel Gabriel, a 24-year-old medical student. "Everyone has to keep going to work."
Contributing: Singal reported from Berlin; the Associated Press
0 0 %
0 0 %
0 0 %
0 0 %
0 0 %
0 0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.