Beirut car bomb death toll rises as investigators consider suicide possibility

DNA tests conducted on body parts discovered near the vehicle that blew up yesterday, killing at least 24

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The Independent Online

The death toll from a massive car bomb in Beirut has risen to at least 24, with another 335 people wounded.

Government investigators are studying CCTV footage from the moments before Thursday’s devastating blast in attempts to establish whether it was a suicide attack.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said they believed they had identified the van involved, and were not ruling anything out regarding the method used to set off the explosion.

“The first hypothesis is that the driver blew himself up, while the second hypothesis says that the car may have been blown up from a distance,” Lebanon's National News Agency quoted Charbel as saying.

Reporters who arrived at the scene minutes after the explosion saw a burnt-out car near the centre of the road, suggesting it was being driven when it blew up.

Hezbollah parliamentarian Ali Ammar told reporters in south Beirut on Friday that the death toll had reached 24, while Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said 21 bodies were taken to hospitals and another 335 wounded people had been treated.

The discrepancy may be the result of some bodies being too badly damaged in the explosion to be collected or identified.

Among the dead were a family of five - a father, mother and their three daughters - who were in their car as the blast destroyed several surrounding vehicles and briefly engulfed the lower floors of adjacent building in flames, trapping residents.

Forensic investigators, emergency workers and security forces were still working at the site on Friday morning, amid burnt out cars and charred facades of residential buildings.

Nearby, masked men fired in the air as the first funeral processions for drove slowly through the streets of densely populated south Beirut.

The blast, a month after another car bomb wounded more than 50 people in the same district of the Lebanese capital, came amid sectarian tensions over the intervention of Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah against Sunni rebels in Syria's civil war.

A Sunni Islamist group calling itself the Brigades of Aisha claimed responsibility for the attack and promised more operations against Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is expected to give his response later on Friday in an address marking the seventh anniversary of the end of the group’s 2006 war with Israel.

Additional reporting by agencies