Double explosions kill 42 in Lebanon

Lebanon's Red Cross said more than 500 people were wounded in the two explosions.

Lebanese civilians gather at the site of a blast outside the Al-Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli on 23 August 2013. Car bombs exploded outside two Sunni Mosques killing 42 people. Picture: AFP

TRIPOLI, LEBANON - Twin explosions hit two Mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, killing at least 42 people and wounding hundreds, intensifying the sectarian strife that has spilled over from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

The apparently coordinated blasts, the biggest and deadliest in Tripoli since the end of Lebanon's own civil war, struck as locals were finishing Friday prayers in the largely Sunni Muslim city. Lebanese officials appealed for calm.

The explosions in Tripoli, 70 km from Beirut came a week after a huge car bomb killed at least 24 people in a part of the capital Beirut that is controlled by the Shi'ite Muslim militant movement Hezbollah.

A recent resurgence of sectarian violence in Lebanon has been stoked by the conflagration in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is fighting a largely Sunni-led rebellion. Both Hezbollah and radical Sunni groups in Lebanon have sent fighters over the border to support opposing sides in Syria.

Medical and security sources said the death toll from Friday's blasts in Tripoli had risen to 42 by late afternoon. Hundreds more were wounded, they said. Earlier, the Lebanese Red Cross said at least 500 people were hurt.

The first explosion hit the Taqwa mosque, frequented by hardline Sunni Islamists, and killed at least 14 people there, according to accounts earlier in the day.

Further deaths were reported from a second blast outside the al-Salam mosque, which the Interior Ministry said was hit by a car laden with 100 kilograms of explosives

A Reuters reporter at the scene said the crater from the blast was about four metres (13 feet) wide and 2.5 metres (8 feet) deep and the floors of the mosque were covered in blood. A 50-metre (165-foot) stretch of the road was charred black and the twisted remains of cars littered the area.

"We were just bowing down to pray for the second time and the bomb went off. The air cleared, and I looked around me and saw bodies," said Samir Jadool, 39.

Lebanon's Red Cross said more than 500 people were wounded in the two explosions. Television footage showed people running through the streets, some of them carrying bloodied victims.

Near the Taqwa mosque blast site, angry men toting AK-47 assault rifles took to the streets and fired in the air while other men threw rocks at Lebanese soldiers nearby.

Video obtained by local news channel LBC showed the moment of the explosion at al-Salam mosque. The blast ripped through a wall of the mosque, showering clouds of dust on people sitting on prayer mats and sending dozens running out of the building.

Lebanese officials called for calm as tensions rose in Tripoli, a Mediterranean port that has seen some of the worst Syria crossover violence. Sunni gunmen have sporadically clashed with fighters from the city's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam to which the Assad family belongs.

Former internal security chief Ashraf Rifi, whose home was damaged by the second blast, warned that Lebanon was facing a gathering storm of violence.