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12 August 2011

Two men killed handling explosives in Beirut suburb

christianMurder.jpgBEIRUT // Two men were killed and a bystander was injured yesterday when a bomb went off in a car park in a Beirut suburb, security sources said.

The two men were believed to have been handling an explosive device when it detonated. "The explosion was very close to the bodies, so maybe they were wearing or holding the bomb," a security source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The bystander received minor injuries in the blast, which also damaged cars in the area. Witnesses said they saw two bodies, lying in pools of blood, shortly after the bomb went off.

All three were taken to hospital, where the two men were pronounced dead. Police identified the dead men as Ihsan Dia and Hassan Nassar but gave no further details.

The blast happened near a car used by the son of Albert Serhan, a Lebanese judge, but it was unclear whether he was the target.

"My son is an engineer and he parks his car in that lot, along with his colleagues, near their office," Mr Serhan told Agence France-Presse.

"I have never been threatened nor does anyone in my family dabble in politics."

Shortly after the explosion, police and security forces cordoned off the area in the largely Christian neighbourhood of Antelias.

Fadi Thabet, who runs a computer shop opposite the car park, said he heard an explosion at about 11am local time. Peering from his shop window, he said he had seen one body on the ground covered in blood.

"We are very surprised to see something like this in our neighbourhood," Mr Thabet said. "There is no military here, no political offices. Just There were no immediate claims of responsibility yesterday. Police did not confirm the cause of the blast or whether it was politically or criminally motivated.

The incident rattled nerves in a country that has witnessed bombings and assassination attempts in the past.

While targeted killings have not taken place in recent years, just last month a convoy of vehicles belonging to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) was the target of a roadside bomb in the southern city of Sidon - the second such attack on the force in two months.

A wave of deadly car-bomb attacks between 2004 and 2008 targeted well-known journalists and political figures, the most high-profile of which was the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14, 2005.

Last month, the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) named suspects in the murder - four men with ties to Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement.

Lebanese authorities submitted a report to the STL earlier this week, outlining their unsuccessful efforts to apprehend the four men. Yesterday, the STL president, Judge Antonio Cassese, released an open letter in which he made a direct appeal to the suspects - identified as Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra - to cooperate with the tribunal.

In the letter, Mr Cassese pledged that the men would be given a fair trial and that they should consider appointing legal counsel to represent them in court proceedings expected to take place later this year. If the men cannot be apprehended or do not turn themselves in, the trials will go ahead without them present.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's leader, has previously denied any involvement in the 2005 lorry bombing that left Hariri and 22 others dead. After the first STL indictment was released at the end of June, Mr Nasrallah repeated his denunciation of the court and pledged that not even in "300 years" would Hizbollah members be arrested.

Media also reported that an STL delegation was in the Lebanese capital yesterday for meetings with victims of other assassination attempts, which may have links to the Hariri murder.

Tensions were also rising in Lebanon amid concerns about the potential impact of the continuing violence in neighbouring Syria. However, with the exception of some isolated scuffles, the violence has not spilt over the border.

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