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Retaliation Claimed in Deadly Beirut Blasts

An al Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility for attacks that killed six in Lebanon's capital.

by Ryan Faith
Feb 19 2014, 11:40pm

Photo: Anadolu Agency

On Wednesday, two suicide bombers struck the Iranian cultural center in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, marking another step in the widening of the long, savage war in neighboring Syria.

The suicide attacks, which killed six people and wounded at least 129, involved the near-simultaneous detonation of two car bombs totaling some 360 pounds of explosives. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al Qaeda linked group, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, asserting that they were retaliation for the involvement of Lebanese fighters in the Syrian conflict and the capture of rebel fighters by Lebanese forces. This attack comes less than a week after the Geneva II peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian Civil War ended, and just days after Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, stated that he would continue to send fighters into Syria.

Hezbollah, regarded as a terrorist group in the West, has carved out a sizable pseudo-state for itself in southern Lebanon, where it has squared off against Israel for decades. Both Hezbollah and the Syrian government are closely allied to, and receive a great deal of support from, Iran. Hezbollah has over the past year sent many of its fighters to combat rebel forces, leading some analysts to conclude that it is playing an increasingly dominant role in the Assad regime's counter-revolution.

The rebel forces in direct conflict with Shiite Hezbollah militants include extremist Sunni Islamists. These Sunni groups intend to limit Hezbollah's support for Syria, and they have carried out several attacks against Hezbollah, including suicide bombings and the occasional beheading. Nasrallah’s recent statements, however, indicate that Hezbollah does not plan to reduce its role in the Syrian conflict, even as Sunni attacks in Lebanon increase.

The increasing spillover of the fighting from Syria, along with the steady stream of refugees fleeing the country, have raised alarms in Lebanon. Many observers fear that the increasing violence in Lebanon could ignite a new civil war. This is a very reasonable concern, given that fighting in Syria has spread to western Iraq, resulting in the Islamist takeover of Fallujah and Ramadi.