BEIRUT (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew up his car in Beirut on Monday night near an army checkpoint, killing a security officer and wounding several people watching the soccer World Cup in a nearby cafe.
Security forces have been on high alert since a suicide bomber killed one person and wounded 37 near the Syrian border on Friday in an attack that narrowly missed Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security department.
One security source said before Monday night’s explosion that security forces were hunting for two potential suicide bombers in the Lebanese capital.
Lebanon has suffered a wave of sectarian violence linked to the war in Syria which, like its neighbor Iraq, is fighting a Sunni insurgency. Militants, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are sweeping through the north and west of Iraq towards the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.
“What is happening in Iraq isn’t far from what is happening in Lebanon, but Lebanon will not let ISIL spread here,” lawmaker Ali Ammar, from the Shi’ite militant and political group Hezbollah, told Al-Manar television.
Monday’s explosion, shortly before midnight, killed the bomber and wounded 19 people, Lebanon’s civil defense force said. An emergency worker at the nearby Sahel hospital said it treated 11 slightly wounded people.
Two security sources said on Tuesday that a member of the security services had also been killed when the Mercedes car packed with 25 kg (55 pounds) of explosives detonated.
Lebanon’s state-run news agency identified him as Abdul Kareem Hodrej, an officer in Lebanon’s General Security forces.
Reuters television footage from the scene showed the blackened wreckage of a car, surrounded by damaged vehicles.
Windows in nearby buildings were shattered by the blast, which occurred in a mainly Shi’ite Muslim district of southern Beirut inhabited by supporters of Hezbollah-allied group, Amal.
Hezbollah has been fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria against the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, who have also been supported by Lebanese Sunnis.
The conflict has spilled over into Lebanon, with rocket attacks on Shi’ite towns in the Bekaa Valley, close to the border with Syria, and bombings of Shi’ite and Sunni targets in Lebanon’s main coastal cities.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Louise Ireland)