Explosion rocks Lebanese capital of Beirut

Posted at 4:12 PM, Jun 12, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) -- A powerful bomb in Beirut destroyed several cars, severely damaged one of Lebanon's biggest banks and wounded one person on Sunday.

The state-run National News Agency said the bomb was placed under a car. Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, speaking to the private LBC station, confirmed the report but did not say whether anyone was deliberately targeted by the blast, which shook nearby buildings.

The explosion occurred few minutes after residents sat down for iftar, the meal that breaks the daylong fast for observing Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan, when the streets in predominantly Muslim areas like Verdun are usually empty.

Lebanon has in recent years faced deadly spillovers from the Syrian civil war next door, and Lebanese authorities have been on high alert, tightening security in recent days.

Sunday's explosion was the first to hit Lebanon since November, when twin suicide blasts struck a southern Beirut suburb that is a stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah group, killing at least 43 people. That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to battle alongside President Bashar Assad's forces.

Sunday's attack appeared to be different than previous bombings, designed to cause minimal casualties. The bomb was placed behind the headquarters of BLOM bank, Lebanon's second largest bank. It shattered the building's glass facade and damaged nearby cars and buildings.

BLOM bank has been criticized by some pro-Hezbollah politicians for taking a hard-line position after Lebanese banks began abiding by a U.S. law that sanctions doing business with the militant group. Authorities say dozens of bank accounts related to Hezbollah's organizations have been closed in recent weeks.

Saad Azhari, the head of BLOM bank, said no one should jump to conclusion as to who was behind the attack.

"We are interested in being a serious bank that serves the interests of all (Lebanese). We don't take measures to harm any one particular group," he told reporters at the scene.