Ahead of Vienna Summit, Islamic State Militants Attack Beirut

Days before world leaders are set to gather in Vienna to discuss a solution to the crisis in Syria, Islamic State militants launched suicide attacks in Beirut.

Emergency personnel inspect the debris at the site of a twin suicide bombing in Burj al-Barajneh, in the southern suburbs of the capital Beirut on November 12, 2015. At least 37 people have been killed and more than 180 wounded after twin suicide bombings rocked the southern suburb of the capital. AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO        (Photo credit should read ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Emergency personnel inspect the debris at the site of a twin suicide bombing in Burj al-Barajneh, in the southern suburbs of the capital Beirut on November 12, 2015. At least 37 people have been killed and more than 180 wounded after twin suicide bombings rocked the southern suburb of the capital. AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO (Photo credit should read ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Emergency personnel inspect the debris at the site of a twin suicide bombing in Burj al-Barajneh, in the southern suburbs of the capital Beirut on November 12, 2015. At least 37 people have been killed and more than 180 wounded after twin suicide bombings rocked the southern suburb of the capital. AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO (Photo credit should read ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images)

In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is used to targeting the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Syrian national army, and rebel forces seeking to oust embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Thursday, the extremists expanded their fight to a new theater, launching a suicide bomb attack on Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut.

The Islamic State took credit Thursday for a suicide attack that killed at least 43 and wounded another 200 in Bourj al-Barajneh, a crowded, Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital. It is the bloodiest attack in Beirut’s recent history and the first time the Islamic State struck the city since January last year.

The attack came less than two weeks after a Russian passenger jet disintegrated in midair and crashed on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, raising speculation the Islamic State had planted a bomb on board the plane, which would signal an expansion of their operational capability in the region. Investigators have not yet determined a cause for the crash, which killed 224 people.

In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is used to targeting the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Syrian national army, and rebel forces seeking to oust embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Thursday, the extremists expanded their fight to a new theater, launching a suicide bomb attack on Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut.

The Islamic State took credit Thursday for a suicide attack that killed at least 43 and wounded another 200 in Bourj al-Barajneh, a crowded, Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital. It is the bloodiest attack in Beirut’s recent history and the first time the Islamic State struck the city since January last year.

The attack came less than two weeks after a Russian passenger jet disintegrated in midair and crashed on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, raising speculation the Islamic State had planted a bomb on board the plane, which would signal an expansion of their operational capability in the region. Investigators have not yet determined a cause for the crash, which killed 224 people.

According to SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist activity online, Islamic State members published a message on social media forums Thursday calling the Beirut attack “a unique security operation” made possible by a “booby-trapped motorcycle” and a suicide bomber in a vest. Lebanese officials said Thursday that the attack was coordinated by three bombers, one of whom died before he could detonate his own vest.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared Friday a day of mourning and called on Lebanese citizens to “be more watchful and united against strife.”

Thursday’s attack came just two days before a summit in Vienna when world leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will gather to try and find a solution to the nearly five-year-long crisis in Syria. Kerry said Thursday that the conference, which includes Russia and Iran, will try to break the impasse over Assad’s future and eventually give a prominent role to Syrian opposition forces.  

Bourj al-Barajneh is home to a refugee camp that once housed mainly displaced Palestinians. But since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, the camp has expanded to accommodate Syrian refugees as well. There are now over 1 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Earlier this year, when Islamic State militants overran the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, United Nations officials described the clashes as “the deepest circle of hell.” 

Like the United States, Hezbollah is opposed to the Islamic State. But the Shiite group, which is labeled a terrorist organization by both the United States and Israel, has aligned with Russia and Iran to throw its weight behind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States, on the other hand, has backed opposition groups fighting both the Islamic State and the Syrian national army.

Photo credit: ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images

Correction, Nov. 12, 2015: There are now over 1 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. A previous version of this article mistakenly stated there were 3 million Syrian refugees living in Syria. 

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