BEIRUT: Lebanon on Friday mourned 43 people killed in south Beirut in a twin bombing claimed by Daesh (the self-styled Islamic State group), the bloodiest such attack in years.
The Red Cross said at least 239 people were also wounded, several in critical condition, in the blasts that hit a busy shopping street in the Burj Al Barajneh neighbourhood.
On Friday, families prepared to collect the bodies of loved ones from hospitals as the country observed a day of national mourning declared by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Earlier report: More than 200 peple were wounded, many of them seriously, said Health Minister Wael Abou Faour at the scene of the explosions, in a narrow shopping street in the Burj Al Barajneh neighbourhood.
Surrounding buildings were badly damaged by the blasts and security forces were trying to cordon off the scene and keep people from gathering.
Daesh militants claimed the attack, saying its “soldiers of the Caliphate” detonated explosives planted on a motorbike on the street, in an online statement.
“After the apostates gathered in the area, one of the knights of martyrdom detonated his explosive belt in the midst of them,” the statement added, without referring to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, much of which is under Daesh control.
The statement could not be independently verified, but it followed the usual format of Daesh claims of responsibility and was circulated on jihadist online accounts.
‘The world had ended’
Local television stations showed footage of wounded people being carried away by emergency services and civilians.
“I’d just arrived at the shops when the blast went off. I carried four bodies with my own hands, three women and a man, a friend of mine,” a man who gave his name as Zein Al Abideen Khaddam told local television.
Another described the sound of the explosions: “When the second blast went off, I thought the world had ended.”
The wounded were evacuated to several hospitals in the area, including the Bahman hospital in neighbouring Haret Hreik.
“We’ve received dozens of wounded people and they’re continuing to arrive,” a doctor there told AFP.
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced a national day of mourning for Friday, local media reported.
Former premier Saad Hariri, who leads a political bloc opposed to Hezbollah and its allies, called the attack “vile and unjustified”.
World leaders also condemned the attack, which French President Francois Hollande called “despicable”.
The White House offered its condolences for what it described as the “horrific terrorist attacks”, vowing that “such acts of terror only reinforce our commitment to support the institutions of the Lebanese state”.
Un Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Lebanon to “not allow this despicable act to destroy the relative calm that has prevailed in the country over the past year”.
Campaign against Hezbollah
The attacks were the deadliest to hit a Hezbollah stronghold since the group entered Syria’s civil war in support of President Bashar Al Assad.
Between July 2013 and February 2014, there were nine attacks on Hezbollah throughout Lebanon, mostly claimed by extremist groups.
In the most recent, in the southern suburbs of Beirut in June last year, a suicide car bomb killed a security officer.
Despite ostensibly targeting Hezbollah, the victims of the attacks have been overwhelmingly civilians.
The deadliest in southern Beirut was in 2013, when 27 people were killed by a car bomb in the Rweiss district