BEIRUT: Four people were killed and 77 others were wounded Thursday in a car bomb that struck Haret Hreik, a neighborhood of Beirut's southern suburbs where Hezbollah enjoys broad support, the Health Ministry said.
Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said human remains inside the vehicle used in the explosion suggested a suicide bomber may have been involved.
A judicial source told The Daily Star "DNA tests are being conducted on human remains that have yet to be identified."
The 4.10 p.m. blast, which the Army said resulted from 20 kilograms of explosives material, caused plumes of black smoke to blanket the sky as ambulances rushed to the area.
Hundreds of residents flocked to the area to help in the rescue effort, pulling dead and wounded out from the rubble.
The blast site was strewn with debris. Several buildings were damaged and flames engulfed vehicles parked on Al-Arid Street, where the explosives-rigged vehicle had been parked.
“I fell suddenly to the floor,” a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Daily Star, recounting the moment of the explosion.
“Civil Defense teams then evacuated us but we were about to suffocate from the smoke,” the woman, trying to catch her breath, said.
“I have heard nothing of my brother’s family,” she yelled, fearing for the lives of her relatives.
Her brother was on the 10th floor of a building near the scene of the explosion.
“I would have seen them if they were evacuated. They have a kid with them,” the woman said, as she looked for her missing sibling.
The car bombing in Haret Hreik, a densely populated neighborhood of the southern suburb, is the latest security incident to hit increasingly volatile Lebanon. The attacks are linked to the ongoing crisis in Syria, particularly Hezbollah’s military support there to President Bashar Assad.
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah said the blast occurred meters away from the party's political council, saying "the target of the attack was Lebanon, its security, stability and national unity."
“[Lebanon is facing] a major battle in the face of terrorism that does not exclude anyone and aims to incite sectarian and confessional strife among Lebanese so that it [Lebanon] can be part of what is happening in the region,” caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil told reporters in Haret Hreik.
The Army said the explosives-rigged vehicle was a 1993, dark green Grand Cherokee Jeep that had been parked on Al-Arid Street. It said 20 kilograms of explosives had been distributed throughout the vehicle.
The original owner of the vehicle was identified as Hala Othman from Baalbek, east Lebanon, a security source told The Daily Star.
Thursday’s blast comes only days after a car bomb in Downtown Beirut killed former Minister Mohammad Shatah and seven others.
The bulk of attacks linked to the crisis next door have targeted areas loyal to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran’s primary ally in Lebanon.
On Nov. 19, two suicide bombers targeted Iran’s Embassy in Beirut, killing over a dozen people including an Iranian diplomat.
The attack was claimed by the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, an Al-Qaeda offshoot headed by Saudi national Majid al-Majid. The group warned of further attacks until Hezbollah withdrew its fighters from Syria.
Army Intelligence arrested in late December a Saudi national who is suspected of being Majid, security sources have told The Daily Star.
A security source told The Daily Star Thursday that the Army will take unprecedented, strict security measures, fearing reprisals by the Abdallah Azzam Brigades over the reported arrest of Majid. -With additional reporting by Wassim Mroueh