Bombs kill 42 outside mosques in Lebanon's Tripoli

Bombs hit two
mosques in the northern
Lebanese city of Tripoli on
Friday, killing at least 42
people and wounding
hundreds, intensifying
sectarian strife that has
spilled over from the civil
war in neighbouring Syria.
The apparently coordinated blasts - the
biggest and deadliest in Tripoli since the end
of Lebanon's own civil war - struck as locals
were finishing Friday prayers in the largely
Sunni Muslim city. Lebanese officials
appealed for calm.
The explosions in Tripoli, 70 km (40 miles)
from the capital Beirut, came a week after a
huge car bomb killed at least 24 people in a
part of Beirut controlled by the Shi'ite
Muslim militant movement Hezbollah.
A recent resurgence of sectarian violence in
Lebanon has been stoked by the
conflagration in Syria, where President
Bashar al-Assad is fighting a largely Sunni-
led rebellion. Both Hezbollah and radical
Sunni groups in Lebanon have sent fighters
over the border to support opposing sides in
Medical and security sources said the death
toll from Friday's blasts in Tripoli had risen
to 42 by late afternoon. Hundreds more were
wounded, they said.
The first explosion hit the Taqwa mosque,
frequented by hardline Sunni Islamists, and
killed at least 14 people there, according to
accounts earlier in the day.
Further deaths were reported from a second
blast a few minutes later outside the al-
Salam mosque, which the Interior Ministry
said was hit by a car laden with 100 kg (220
pounds) of explosives.
A Reuters reporter at the scene said the
blast left a huge crater and the floors of the
mosque were covered in blood. A 50-metre
(160-foot) stretch of the road was charred
black and the twisted remains of cars littered
the area.
"We were just bowing down to pray for the
second time and the bomb went off. The air
cleared, and I looked around me and saw
bodies," said Samir Jadool, 39.
Lebanon's Red Cross said more than 500
people were wounded in the two explosions.
Television footage showed people running
through the streets, some of them carrying
bloodied victims.
Near the Taqwa mosque blast site, angry
men toting AK-47 assault rifles took to the
streets and fired in the air while other men
threw rocks at Lebanese soldiers nearby.
"Back off," said one militant, when
journalists approached the scene. Soldiers
peeked out at the mosque from a nearby
base but did not approach it.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
condemned the bombings and called on all
Lebanese people to "exercise restraint, to
remain united, and to support their state
institutions, particularly the security forces".
Witnesses at the scene of the blasts said
anger was rising among locals, who were
shouting out accusations that Assad's
government or Hezbollah were behind the
"This is the work of a criminal," seethed
Jadool, who held a bloodied bandage against
his head, the result of flying debris from the
blast at the al-Salam mosque.
Video obtained by local news channel LBC
showed the moment of the explosion at al-
Salam mosque. The blast ripped through a
wall of the mosque, showering clouds of dust
on people sitting on prayer mats and sending
dozens running out of the building.
Lebanese officials called for calm as tensions
rose in Tripoli, a Mediterranean port that has
seen some of the worst Syria spillover
violence. Sunni gunmen have sporadically
clashed with fighters from the city's minority
Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam to
which the Assad family belongs.
Former internal security chief Ashraf Rifi,
whose home was damaged by the second
blast, warned Lebanon was facing a growing
threat. "We are still in the beginning of the
storm and we must remain aware and try to
protect this nation," he said, speaking
outside his home. "This storm has become a
huge, grave danger."
Officials in Tripoli called on the government
in a joint statement to step up security in the
city. Mohammed Kabara, a member of
parliament who read out the statement,
accused the Syrian government of carrying
out the Beirut and Tripoli bombings to create
strife in Lebanon.
Prominent Salafist sheik, Dai al-Islam
Shahhal, also blamed the Syrian government
for the Tripoli bombs and said it was "pure
Hezbollah released a statement condemning
the Tripoli blasts and expressing solidarity
with the victims, saying they were targets of
efforts to fan more violence in Lebanon.
"We consider this the completion of an effort
to plunge Lebanon into chaos and
destruction," the statement said.
Hezbollah's political opponents called on the
group to withdraw its forces from Syria in
response to Friday's attack.
Lebanese Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn
warned against being dragged into deeper
sectarian bloodshed. "We are calling for calm
and vigilance, because the aim of this (the
bombings) is to stoke strife between sects,"
he told LBC.
Salem al-Rafei, chief cleric of the Taqwa
mosque, is a staunch supporter of Syrian
Sunni rebels as well as Lebanese Sunni
militants who have joined the anti-Assad
battle in Syria.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at
the United Nations; Writing by Erika Solomon
and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Pravin Char)