Islamic State claims responsibility for Beirut suicide attack

BEIRUT — The Islamic State jihadist group has claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing that killed 41 people in a Beirut stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah movement Thursday evening.

According to a Lebanese security official, a first suicide attacker detonated his explosives’ vest outside a Shiite mosque, while the second blew himself up inside a nearby bakery. An apparent third suicide attacker was found dead, still wearing an intact explosives’ belt, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

A statement from IS said that “soldiers of the Caliphate” detonated explosives planted on a motorbike in an area frequented by Shiites — a likely reference to the mosque — followed by a suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest. It made no mention of a third would-be bomber.

“After the apostates gathered in the area, one of the knights of martyrdom detonated his explosive belt in the midst of them,” the statement added. “Let the Shiite apostates know that we will not rest until we take revenge in the name of the Prophet (Muhammad),” the claim said.

IS posted its claim on social media pages linked to the Sunni militant group. The claim could not be independently verified, but followed the usual format of IS claims of responsibility and was circulated on jihadist online accounts.

The attack hit a busy shopping street in a neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut where Hezbollah holds sway.

This is the second attack to date that has been claimed by the IS in Beirut, after a January 2014 bombing in the district of Haret Hreik, another Shiite neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant messaging on the Internet.

There was a string of attacks in 2013 and 2014 targeting Hezbollah by Sunni extremist groups who cited Hezbollah’s military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syria’s civil war has spilled over into Lebanon on multiple occasions, inflaming sectarian tensions between the country’s Sunnis and Shiites and leaving scores dead.

The Lebanese Sunni and Shiite communities have lined up on opposing side of Syria’s civil war — Sunnis broadly support the Sunni rebels fighting against Assad while the Shiites typically back Assad. Lebanon also hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees — equivalent to a quarter of the country’s entire population.

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