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Suicide Bombing Kills At Least 37 In Hezbollah Stronghold Of Southern Beirut


Two suicide bombers today attacked a crowded commercial district in Beirut, Lebanon. Hundreds are wounded, dozens dead. Recently, Beirut had been largely free of the kind of violence now commonplace next-door in Syria. Today's attack is the worst the city's seen in years. Anne Barnard is The New York Times' Beirut bureau chief, and she joins me now. And Anne, to start, tell me more about this area of Beirut that the attackers targeted and what these bombs did to it.

ANNE BARNARD: Well, this is a neighborhood called Bourj al-Barajneh, which is part of the Dahieh. That just means suburb. It's a bit of a misnomer 'cause it's in an sprawling urban area in the South of Beirut. It's a working-class area, and the place where the bombs went off was in a crowded shopping street. And it seems to have hit at rush hour, targeting people at a time when it would maximize casualties.

CORNISH: A lot of the writing by you and others points out that there's great support for Hezbollah in this region. Can you talk about how that has come into play in terms of who's taken responsibly for the bombing?

BARNARD: Well, the Islamic State, the extremist group that's taken over parts of Iraq and Syria, has claimed responsibly for the bombing. And they've made no bones about the fact that they are attacking, first of all, Shiites as a group, who they view as apostates. And they've used sectarian slurs in describing their motive for the bombing.

And at the same time, they're attacking Hezbollah, which is a Shiite militia but also is a strong and crucial ally of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and has been fighting not only against ISIS but also against other opponents of Assad.

CORNISH: Lebanon shares a border with Syria. Are there any concerns about whether today's bombing is an indication that the Syrian conflict, the tensions that come with that, are making Lebanon even more vulnerable?

BARNARD: Well, Lebanon has shown a remarkable ability to maintain what many people call its stable instability in spite of this extremely violent conflict next-door and in spite of the fact that for more than four years now Lebanon has been deeply divided over the war in Syria between supporters and opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. So actually, Lebanon has been somewhat elastic in its ability to absorb these stresses and threats. There was a series of bombings that hit this same area by various groups that were said to be targeting Hezbollah although the victims were largely civilians. And those bombings had largely subsided over the last two years after Hezbollah and Lebanese security forces cracked down on security.

CORNISH: And has anyone from the government spoken out or said anything after this bombing?

BARNARD: Well, the bombing has been energetically condemned by all sides. I don't think anyone's going to stand up and publicly embrace this kind of attack. As I said, even though there is disagreement among Lebanese political factions, none of them want to see the Islamic State gaining more of a foothold inside Lebanon. Right across the spectrum, there is condemnation for the bombing. It was even declared that tomorrow will be a day of national mourning and schools will be closed.

CORNISH: Anne Bernard is Beirut bureau chief for The New York Times. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

BARNARD: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.