Two suicide bombers attacked a busy suburb in southern Beirut on Thursday evening. It was a crowded area filled with shops and vendors and congested with people because of the 6 p.m. rush hour. One bomb went off near a bakery, the other near a hospital. A third suicide bomber was found by Lebanese police near where the other bombs went off; his belt, filled with explosives, never went off.
The attack killed at least 41 people — including some children — and injured at least 200 more. ISIS later said on social media that it was responsible for the attack, claiming that they were targeting Hezbollah — many members of the Shiite militia, which is active in supporting its next-door neighbor, President Bashar al-Assad, in Syria, live in the neighborhood — and other Shiite Muslims. Many Syrian refugees also lived in the suburb, which also housed a Palestinian refugee camp.
The attack is the worst bombing Beirut has seen in years. The suburb hit today suffered a few attacks in 2012 and 2013 after Hezbollah announced its plans to intervene in the Syrian Civil War. Lebanon, which finished its own bloody civil war a few decades ago, has had plenty of its own political problems; the country hasn’t had a president for more than a year because parliament hasn’t elected one, and the endlessly divided government hasn’t done much while the mostly ceremonial role has remained unfilled. More than a million Syrian refugees have flooded into the country, which has about 4.5 million residents.
Friday will be a day of national mourning and schools and universities have canceled classes for the day.
“There were bodies on the ground, on cars, on motorcycles,” one witness told the Guardian. “On the floor there were bodies, flesh fragments, heads and feet.”
This weekend, several leaders and diplomats are scheduled to meet in Vienna and try to see if there is a way to solve the mess in Syria by political means. On Sunday and Monday, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Turkey for a Group of 20 meeting.