BEIRUT, Lebanon – A car bombing in Beirut’s southern suburbs is but the latest in a series of such attacks by Sunni Islamist fighters in the stronghold of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which has provided fighters to back the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the three-year civil war there.
The explosion occurred near the political offices of the Lebanese-backed Hezbollah, also known as the Party of God. It killed four and wounded nine in a rush-hour blast that was the third to target the neighborhood since July.
It was only 200 yards plus from Hezbollah’s political office.
While no one has taken responsibility for the latest explosion, Hezbollah sources tell WND that it was Jabhat al-Nusra, whose fighters are infiltrating from Syria into Lebanon to fight Hezbollah.
The Sunni Islamist fighters of al-Nusra are affiliated with al-Qaida, which is sending its fighters from Syria into Lebanon to attack Hezbollah because of its backing of al-Assad.
Al-Nusra had teamed up with the Syrian opposition in an effort to oust al-Assad and reestablish a Sunni-run Islamic caliphate.
Al-Nusra and a number of other Islamic groups, financially and logistically backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia, took over the Syrian opposition and today pose the greatest threat to the region.
Al-Nusra wants to use Syria as a springboard to launch attacks into Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to establish caliphates that would be subject to strict Shariah law.
Now, al-Nusra has begun to bring its fighters into south Beirut to attack Hezbollah targets because of its support for al-Assad and the fact that Hezbollah also is backed by the Shiite cleric rulers in Iran.
Hezbollah sources tell WND that these fighters are infiltrating Lebanon and for the most part are lying low except for the occasional car bomb in Hezbollah’s stronghold – waiting until there are enough fighters in the country to launch full-fledged attacks, possibly beginning in spring.
These sources estimate that there already are 35,000 al-Nusra fighters in Lebanon now.
In effect, the Syrian civil war and the increase in al-Nusra attacks in Lebanon have become a proxy war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia in a sectarian conflict that goes back to just after Mohammad died in 632.
The latest explosion in Beirut occurred in the Haret Hreik district of Dahiyeh, which is under constant patrols by Hezbollah security with sniffer dogs. All streets into the district are manned by heavily armed Lebanese army personnel.
It comes just days after another car bomb exploded on Dec. 27 in the commercial part of Beirut outside of Dahiyeh. That area in the Hamra section of town is primarily Christian and Sunni.
The March 14 Sunni group immediately blamed Hezbollah for the explosion which killed the former finance minister under Lebanon’s late prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, who himself was killed by a car bomb in February 2005.
During the 34-day war in August 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, the area of Dahiyeh, which is mostly apartment buildings and small shops, was nearly leveled from constant Israeli bombing. The area recently has been rebuilt, financed entirely by Iran.
Since the two previous bombs, beginning last July, Hezbollah has installed steel posts at parking spaces. A chain is locked from post to post to keep attackers who may have installed explosives in their vehicles from parking.
This development alone has had a big impact on the local businesses there, since customers are unable to park. Any car that pauses for any length of time is immediately approached to inquire on what the occupant is doing. Any car abandoned or unidentified is immediately towed.
Hezbollah security patrols on the streets don’t hesitate stopping a stranger to inquire about what the person is doing in Dahiyeh. The individual is expected to justify being in the area and had better not have any camera.
Last year, a French diplomat was alone in the area taking pictures. He was stopped by Hezbollah security and jailed. In addition to having a military wing, Hezbollah also performs its own law enforcement in the Dahiyeh area with uniformed personnel in green fatigues.
In addition, Hezbollah has installed cameras throughout the area to keep a constant eye on activities.
Where residential area activities bustled prior to July when the first car bomb exploded, the streets in Dahiyeh now are virtually deserted at night, with the stillness interrupted by the occasional loudspeaker call to prayers from the large Hassanein mosque that was the headquarters of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, considered to be the spiritual father of Hezbollah when he was alive.
Despite the major increase in security, a car bomb in November exploded outside the Iranian embassy in the Dahiyeh district, killing some 23 people.
Now, Majid al-Majid, appointed by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier this year to head al-Qaida in Syria and Lebanon, has been captured and is being questioned by Lebanese authorities for the Iranian embassy bombing.
The Iranians have asked to speak to him.
Hezbollah sources recently told WND that al-Majid had set up his headquarters in the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian camp at Saida, or Sidon, south of Beirut.
Ain el-Hilweh is under the auspices of the United Nations Work and Relief Agency, or UNWRA, and is one of 12 such camps that house officially some 200,000 Palestinians, who are Sunni.
However, there are another 200,000 Palestinians who live in areas not subject to U.N. control. Ain el-Hillweh, originally designed to house 20,000 Palestinians, now has some 100,000 refugees living in the camp.
Ain el-Hilweh also is considered to have the heaviest concentration of al-Qaida and al-Nusra in all of Lebanon.
Of the 100,000 Fatah or Palestinian residents at Ain el-Hilweh, Hezbollah and Fatah sources tell WND that there are up to 2,000 al-Nusra fighters there.
Yet, the 80,000 Fatah residents who are armed mostly with Kalashnikovs are afraid to take on the 2,000 al-Nusra fighters whom they say are heavily armed with rocket-propelled grenades and ground-to-air missiles.
Despite this concentration of al-Nusra at Ain el-Hilweh, the Lebanese military cannot enter the camp. At the same time, however, Hezbollah sources say their people are keeping close watch on the al-Nusra personnel at the camp.
These sources add that al-Nusra is smuggling fighters into Lebanon and housing them in predominantly Sunni areas of the country from the Bekaa Valley into southern Lebanon.
They add that these fighters are lying low until larger numbers of fighters can infiltrate. They expect the beginning of major action by spring.
Hezbollah, on the other hand, has sent most of its fighters into Syria, leaving Lebanon and especially its own stronghold particularly vulnerable to any massive al-Nusra onslaught.
Hezbollah sources remain concerned over Saudi Arabia and its his role in financing and providing arms to the foreign fighters. These sources say that if Saudi Arabia loses Syria and al-Assad remains in power, Saudi Arabia will make sure that Lebanon “burns.”