Initial reports indicate at least two killed and 20 more injured in suicide car bomb
A major suicide car bomb has gone off in Lebanon, hitting a security checkpoint in the Bekaa Valley on the main road between Beirut and Damascus.
According to initial reports at least two people have been killed and 34 injured in the blast. One Lebanese security official is said to be among the dead, with fears that the casualty toll may soon climb further.
Internal Security Forces have now confirmed that six security personnel were among the injured.
Initial reports from Al Jazeera correspondents on the ground indicate that the assailants are not thought to have been of Lebanese origin and that the car was travelling from Syria at the time of the explosion.
Security sources told the local The Daily Star newspaper that the blast in the eastern Bekaa Valley targeted an Internal Security Forces checkpoint in Dahr al-Baidar. The source also said that the majority of those injured were civilians.
Local officials have provided MEE with phone photos from the blast site (MEE)
Berri assassination plot
The incident comes hot on the heels of a large-scale security operation which saw at least 13 men arrested in a Beirut raid on Friday morning.
The suspects are thought to have been planning to assassinate Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who also heads Lebanon’s Shia Amal Movement.
Local media reports say security services were tipped off by hotel staff at central Beirut's popular Napoleon Hotel in central Beirut, who told them that the arrestees were hiding out there.
A senior security source told The Daily Star that the ISF was still “working on thwarting a big security plot”, but would not elaborate further.
A local government official, who did not want to be named because he is not permitted to comment on the issue publicly, told the Middle East Eye that the crackdowns in Beirut are thought to be linked to Friday's bomb blast.
He also said that initial signs point to the Lebanese army and security services having been the target of the attacks, and warned that further raids were expected to take place throughout the day.
A senior military figure security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim has since appeared on Lebanese television saying that he only narrowly escaped the blast.
"The explosion in Dahr al-Baidar occurred moments after the convoy I was in passed through the checkpoint," Ibrahim told a local television station.
In an interview with LBC, a Christian pro-Sunni television station, he said that "Lebanon will not be another Iraq", explaining that Lebanese security forces are "prepared to face" what he called terrorism.
Security forces have now closed the road leading to the Ministry of Interior in Hamra in Beirut, near to where the Berri assasination suspects were arrested, with security being beefed up nationwide, Lebanese radio station Voice of Lebanon reported.
Lebanese security officials have repeatedly warned of the threat of spillover from regional insecurity.
Neighbouring Syria has been rocked by a three-and-a-half-year civil war while Iraq has also recently fall victim to major unrest.
Breaking News Arab, a London-based Lebanese news site, reported that Lebanon’s security services have stepped up patrols in the northern city of Tripoli and that security sources have warned all mosques to take extra precautions during Friday prayers.
The city of Tripoli sees frequent clashes between its Sunni majority and the Alawite minority.
Though no group has as yet officially claimed responsibility, there are suggestions that the explosion could be the work of foreign militants linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Ali Hashem, a prominent columnist and correspondent for the pro-Syrian government and pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen satellite channel, tweeted:
Tweet suggesting ISIL involvement
Translation: #al-Nusra and #Abdullah_Azzam only target the Lebanese army. A target on the interior security forces = ISIL has arrived in Lebanon #Explosion #Dahr_al-Baidar
Tamam Nour al-Din, a Lebanese lawyer based in Beirut, agreed:
Ali Hashem balmes ISIL in a tweet
Translation: There is security information talking about a plan put in place by ISIL to execute a series of suicide attacks today timed to coincide with Friday prayers.
ISIL forces also added further fuel to the fire, with various social media reports and debates emerging on Friday about plans to target Lebanon next:
A twitter account for a claimed ISIL member
Car bomb hits Syria
A large-scale car bomb hit the central Syrian province of Hama on Friday, killing at least 34 people in the town of al-Horra, according to state news agency SANA.
More than 50 people were injured in the bombing, SANA said, blaming the incident on rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
These reports could not be independently verified.
The Islamic Front, a coalition of rebel groups, claimed responsibility on Twitter saying they had targeted a “gathering of Assad militia”.
Translation: “#Islamic_Front #Hama_Countryside An explosion targeting groups of Assad’s militias in the Hama countryside in the Sehl al-Ghab area, by a car travelling from a distance kills tens of people.”
The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 37 people were killed, including civilians and security personnel, adding that more than 40 had been wounded.