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Originally published Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 12:55 PM

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Suicide blasts near Iran Embassy in Beirut kill 23

Twin suicide bombings struck outside the Iranian Embassy in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, killing 23 people, including the Iranian cultural attaché, and wounding dozens more in one of the worst bombings to target the predominantly Shiite area in southern Beirut.


Associated Press

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BEIRUT —

Twin suicide bombings struck outside the Iranian Embassy in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, killing 23 people, including the Iranian cultural attaché, and wounding dozens more in one of the worst bombings to target the predominantly Shiite area in southern Beirut.

The mid-morning blasts hit the upscale neighborhood of Janah, a stronghold of the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah group, leaving pools of blood and bodies on the rubble-strewn street amid burning cars.

A Lebanese security official said the first suicide attacker was on a motorcycle that carried two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of explosives. He blew himself up at the large black main gate of the Iranian mission, damaging the three-story facility, the official said.

Less than two minutes later, a second suicide attacker driving a car rigged with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives struck about 10 meters (yards) away, the official said. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings appeared to be related to the conflict next door in Syria.

Attacks have targeted Hezbollah strongholds in recent months in what many see as retaliation by Sunni extremists for the militant Lebanese Shiite group's role in Syria's civil war. Hezbollah fighters have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces against largely Sunni rebels seeking to topple his government.

Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi 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.

Lebanese Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said the twin explosions killed 23 people and wounded 146.

Debris was scattered on the street and cars were on fire as people ran away from the chaotic scene. AP video showed firefighters extinguishing flames from vehicles, blood-spattered streets and bodies covered with sheets on the ground. A charred motorcycle stood outside the embassy gate.

An armed guard at the 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 up outside the gate. The guard, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media, said the other explosion, which caused much more damage, was likely a car bomb.

Lebanese security officials confirmed the two bombings were both suicide attacks. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

"We tell those who carried out the attack, you will not be able to break us," Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Mikdad told Al-Mayadeen TV. "We got the message and we know who sent it and we know how to retaliate."

Hezbollah's Al-Rasoul al-Azam hospital called on people to donate blood, saying they need all blood types.

Iran has been one of Assad's strongest supporters, supplying him with money and weapons since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011.

Previous large-scale attacks targeting Hezbollah strongholds include an Aug. 15 car bombing in the southern Beirut suburbs that 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.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.



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