Lebanon has detained seven Syrians and two Lebanese for their alleged involvement in plotting terrorist attacks, including the two bombings that killed 43 and wounded more than 200 people in Beirut last Thursday, The Associated Press reports.
Thursday’s twin bomb blasts were the deadliest in the capital since 1990, when the civil war in Lebanon ended, but the country has long been a terror target, with 14 bombings between July 2013 and June 2014 that killed almost 100.
Lebanese security forces said that two men wearing suicide vests blew themselves up within minutes of each other, one outside a Shia mosque and community center, and the other inside a nearby bakery. The body of a third would-be bomber was found at the scene of the second blast, apparently having been killed by that explosion before he could detonate his own vest, the BBC reports.
The Islamic State (IS) quickly took responsibility for the blasts in Burj al-Barajneh, a largely Shia suburb to the south of Beirut, and Hezbollah stronghold. The claim has not yet been verified.
Hezbollah forces are fighting IS in neighboring Syria.
The explosions marked the first acts of terrorism in more than a year that have targeted a Lebanese Hezbollah stronghold, as the Iran-allied government group increases its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the four-year conflict against Sunni insurgents still unfolding there.
Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk announced the arrests on Sunday.
"Within 24 hours the network was arrested in the fastest uncovering of a bombing incident in the country," a source told Reuters.
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam asked for unity in the face of attempts to stir conflict.
The terrorist attacks come as Lebanon is becoming increasingly known in the international community as the largest harbor, as a percentage of its population, of refugees in the world.
As The New York Times put it: "The European Union, with more than 500 million inhabitants, regards the recent arrival of an estimated million or so asylum seekers as a major emergency. But over the past four years, well over one million Syrians fleeing war have sought refuge in Lebanon, a country of barely four million people."
Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas told the Washington DC, based Middle East news site Al-Monitor that there are other variables in Lebanon worsening the migrant crisis. “First of all, we are in a country where constitutional institutions are paralyzed and Lebanon has been without a president since May 25, 2014. Second, both the government and parliament have been somehow crippled as a result of several political differences and divisions — the evidence being the lingering waste crisis since July 17,” he said.
Asked about possible solutions that could end the crisis, Mr. Derbas implored nations capable of accommodating the displaced to "widely open their doors to Syrians.”
The second solution, he proposed, “is to revive the idea of safe areas either inside Syria or along its border with Turkey.”
He added, “More than 45% of Syrian territory — that is, 80,000 square kilometers [roughly 31,000 square miles] — is now considered safe, which is more than eight times the size of Lebanon. In other words, the displaced can now return to those safe areas, but this would require regional and international cooperation, Gulf financing, facilitations on the part of Turkey and finally US, Russian and UN cover.”
In the midst of the crisis, the minister warned that the United Nations World Food Program has signaled it planned to halt food aid for the displaced in Lebanon, of great concern to Derbas, who said, "Do you know what could result from such a step? This simply means that 1 million people on Lebanese territory will be pushed to the edge of hunger. Do you know what that means?'"
Meanwhile, in the wake of the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, Macedonia's Security Council has ordered its army to start preparations to possibly put up a fence on the border with neighboring Greece to restrict migrants, the AP reports.
A statement issued after the meeting says the Security Council "emphasizes that a fence would not be aimed at closing the border, but channeling and limiting the flow of the migrants."
The statement also says "this step would be taken as a last resort."
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Sunday that "those who organized these attacks, and those who carried them out, are exactly those who the refugees are fleeing."
President Juncker told reporters at the G20 summit in Turkey that "there is no need to revise the European Union's entire refugee policy."