A day after the deadliest bombing to strike Lebanon in more than two decades, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused radical jihadists serving Israeli interests of carrying out the attack, warning that Lebanon was being dragged toward the “abyss.”
“Those who think that the takfiri groups will only target Shiite areas are mistaken,” he said, referring to radical Sunni groups that treat as apostates all those that do not follow their austere interpretation of Islam.
“Those groups would kill Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. They send suicide attackers to Sunni mosques and to churches. If these attacks continue, Lebanon will be on the edge of the abyss,” he added, speaking via a giant video screen to a crowd in Aitta Shaab, a village in south Lebanon.
Lebanon observed an official day of mourning today for the victims of a suspected suicide car bombing yesterday in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut that left at least 24 people dead and more than 200 wounded.
The attack, the deadliest since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, was seen as revenge for Hezbollah's military intervention inside Syria on behalf of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The bombing was claimed by a Sunni group called the Brigades of Aisha Umm al-Moemeneen in a video-taped statement.
Hezbollah's combat role has enraged the mainly Sunni opposition in Syria, but Nasrallah struck a strong tone of defiance, warning that his party would not be intimidated.
“Our response to such attacks is: If we have 100 fighters in Syria, we will double them to 200. If they are 1,000 they will become 2,000. If the battle in Syria requires that I go there with all of Hezbollah, we will go there,” he said. Across the southern suburbs of Beirut, automatic rifle fire erupted in a gesture of approval from Hezbollah supporters for Nasrallah's defiance.
Still, further bomb attacks against Hezbollah targets and Shiite areas in Lebanon are widely expected.
Hezbollah stepped up security measures in the southern suburbs following a car bomb attack last month in the Bir al-Abed district of southern Beirut which wounded 52 people. Checkpoints were set up at night and during the day Hezbollah men closely watched traffic entering the suburbs. A Hezbollah member said that they obtained numerous leads referring to suspect cars, but it was impossible to guarantee that no vehicle-borne bombs would slip through.
According to sources close to Hezbollah, the bombing was carried out by a black BMW which stopped in the middle of a street near a busy intersection. When a Hezbollah man approached the vehicle to find out why the driver had stopped, the car exploded. The suicide bomber's remains were found close to the center of the blast.
Checkpoints manned by Hezbollah men, some of them wearing bright green arms bands, were put in place across the southern suburbs today. The men checked identification cards of passing motorists and inspected the backs of vans for bombs.
But there is little that even the powerful Hezbollah can do to thwart future bomb attacks. The southern suburbs are a large, densely populated area of apartment blocks, schools, hospitals and businesses with multiple entrances. Hezbollah will have to strike a balance between providing security for residents while not imposing restrictions that obstruct normal life.
Residents fully expect more bombings and ruefully admit there is not much they can do.
“There is no way we can stop the bombs,” says “Abu Rida” Miqdad, a resident of the Rweiss neighborhood of southern Beirut. "We have more than 120 doors [streets] into the area.”
Mr. Miqdad was attending the funeral of a relative, Hamad Miqdad, who was killed when the car bomb exploded outside his home.
The Miqdad clan is a powerful Shia family and they buried one of their own in typically martial fashion. Stocky men with grizzled beards and cropped hair, red-faced and sweating in the humid heat, clutched an assortment of rifles. Sweat seeped through the canvas webbing they wore over T-shirts. Heavy bursts of gunfire ripped through the air in a traditional gesture of respect, brass shell cases covering the road.
“Our blood is boiling right now because of all the people that were killed, especially the children,” said one man with webbing and ammunition pouches over his T-shirt.