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ISIS Takes Credit For Beirut Suicide Bombings; At Least 43 Killed


ISIS is claiming responsibility for an attack in yet another city, Beirut. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives yesterday, killing at least 43 people. Many more were injured. This bombing took place in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut, home to the group Hezbollah, which is fighting ISIS in Syria. Let's talk this through now with Nour Samaha. She is a reporter on the line from Beirut. Welcome to the program.

NOUR SAMAHA: Hi, how are you?

INSKEEP: Doing fine, thanks very much. The question, though, is how is Beirut? What have the last 24 hours been like?

SAMAHA: Well, everyone is in shock at the moment because it's been a long time, over a year, since the last bombing to take place. And I'm on the political scene. We've seen a few breakthroughs in literally over the last 24 hours. So I think that after what happened last night, there is concern that this could be a new wave of violence again, especially happening in the (unintelligible) area of southern Beirut.

INSKEEP: What kind of area was targeted?

SAMAHA: The area that was targeted was a commercial residential area in Beirut's southern suburbs, very popular with Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians of all sex. And the time that it was part of it as well was 6 p.m. It was rush hour, so you had a lot of families on the street doing shopping after work. You had a lot of people gathering for social occasion. So it was very much a civilian area.

INSKEEP: Why would ISIS attack south Beirut, this particular area?

SAMAHA: Well, even in their statement, they said that they were attacking it because of the Shia that are there in Hezbollah and the assumption that basically anything that is Shia-related is Hezbollah-related.

INSKEEP: So let's talk through the context. You said that there had been a period of relative calm, at least a year with no bombing. And you also alluded to political breakthroughs just in the last day or so. What had been happening in this area and in Beirut up to the moment the explosions took place?

SAMAHA: Well, on the political side, Lebanon has been without a president for about a year and a half. It has also - the cabinet has been in a deadlock. There are no decrees and no laws they've been able to pass. We've seen a slow erosion of the institutions and public services. We've also seen infrastructure really crippling under the weight of the 1.5 million refugees that have come in from neighboring Syria. And so you're really seeing a country that's slowly crumbling. But at the same time, we've seen a period of very relative calm because I'm sure the agencies have been able to stop a number of would-be attacks and have maintained relative security and safety in the country.

INSKEEP: How popular or unpopular is Hezbollah, particularly, since it is involved in the war in Syria and in moments like this seems to have dragged Lebanon into a larger war?

SAMAHA: Well, Hezbollah does have a pretty significant support base in the country. They do think that Hezbollah could be preventing the war from actually spilling over into Lebanon. I mean, in my opinion, the way that I see it, it's really 50-50. Maybe a year ago or even three years ago, it would've been 70-30 against Hezbollah, but because of everything that's happened in the country, because of the suicide bombings, because of the stuff that have been happening on the borders, because of everything that's happening in Syria with the way that ISIS is acting against minorities, you do see more people that are voicing support for Hezbollah.

INSKEEP: Nour Samaha is a reporter in Beirut. Thanks very much.

SAMAHA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.