Two suicide bombers blew themselves up on a crowded street in a southern Beirut suburb Thursday, killing at least 37 people and wounding nearly 200 in an attack claimed by ISIS (Daesh) and one of the deadliest to strike the country since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, officials said.
A third suicide bomber was also killed when the second attacker blew himself up, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour told reporters, saying many of the wounded were in serious condition.
The attack during evening rush hour in the suburb of Burj al-Barajneh resembled the series of car bombs and suicide blasts carried out by Syria-based extremists targeting Shiite areas of the country in 2013 and early 2014 in response to Hezbollah's intervention in the Syrian war.
"People were lying on the floor, bloody, dead," one man told television reporters from the site of the attack.
A witness told The Daily Star that crowds of people began to gather after hearing an explosion outside a coffee stand in the neighborhood of Ain al-Sikke when a second blast went off about 30 meters away near a bakery.
ISIS (Daesh) claimed the attack in a statement posted online, saying the first attacker rode into a crowd of "heretics" on a motorbike. It used deregotive terms to refer to Shiites and Hezbollah.
"A soldiers of the caliphate blew himself up in the stronghold of the heretics, and after the apostates crowded around the site of the explosion, a second martyr blew himself up using his explosive belt," the statement read.
The extremist group vowed for more attacks against Shiite areas.
The Lebanese army confirmed that two suicide attackers were behind the attack. In a statement, it said the corpse of the third suicide bomber showed that his explosive belt was not triggered by the blast that killed him.
A photo alleged to be of the third suicide bomber broadcast on television showed him lying on the ground face up in a blue shirt with a pink Adidas logo and an in-tact suicide belt secured around his waste.
One man told television reporters that he was at home talking on the phone when he heard the first blast outside his home. He said he ran to the balcony and saw dozens of people rushing toward the area when the second bomb went off.
"I've been living in the suburbs all my life. I want to get out of here. It would be more honorable if I died in the sea," he said.
Most were charged with defiance, with crowds yelling pro-Hezbollah chants.
A security source told The Daily Star that at least 37 people were killed and 181 wounded in the attack. The Lebanese Red Cross issued similar figures.
Television footage showed ambulances rushing to the site of the blasts to tend to the victims, with pools of blood on the roads.
Residents were seen using a vegetable cart to transport wounded, and security forces shot in the air to clear crowds that had assembled around the blast site.
Footage from outside a local hospital showed people being rushed into the hospital on stretchers and wheelchairs. Others were carried in. Some wounded arrived to the hospital on the back of scooters.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared Friday a day of mourning, describing the attack as "cowardly" and calling on Lebanese to unite.
"I pray that this tragedy is enough to wake politicians up so that they can put their differences aside so we can protect the country," he said in a statement.
Speaker Nabih Berri said: "They (the attackers) want to obstruct the country, but we won’t let them do that."
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk vowed to punish those responsible for the attack. "We will not be lenient in apprehending those behind these attacks," he said.
Hussein Khalil, a top aide to Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, described the attack as a "crime against humanity," and not against a certain sect or party.
"It is not far fetched that ISIS and all of its monstrous affiliates are behind this attack," Khalil told reporters from the site of the attacks.
He said that the attack provided reason for Lebanese people to stand by the army and Hezbollah, adding that the fight against terrorism was long.
Syria-based extremist groups including ISIS and Nusra Front have targeted civilian areas in Beirut's southern suburbs and Shiite areas in east Lebanon over their perceived support for Hezbollah over 2013-2014.
Thousands of Hezbollah fighters have been battling alongside government forces in the Syrian war since early 2013.
Security forces have since assembled dozens of checkpoints at the entrances of Beirut's southern suburbs in a bid to stop the attacks.
Earlier this year, Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched a major offensive along the rugged Lebanon-Syria border to oust militants holed up there.
The allied forces captured large swathes of territory in the area, known as Qalamoun, driving militants north toward, and seizing dozens of posts including factories used to assemble car bombs that were blown up in Lebanon.
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