BEIRUT – Despite the world’s attention on the fearful capabilities of Islamic State being grabbed after the horrendous attacks that took place in the streets of Paris on Friday evening, similar atrocities occurred in Beirut the day before. Receiving little coverage in Western media, it wasn’t until the news surrounding the scale of the Parisian bloodbath dominated the headlines that details of events in the Lebanese capital began to surface.
Targeting a largely Shiite neighbourhood in southern Beirut, two suicide bombers detonated themselves in a busy, rush hour filled street killing at least 43 people and injuring over 200. Such as the events in Paris, ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attack – the first one to ever occur in Lebanon.
However, despite the horrifying consecutive nature of the events in France and Lebanon, and the merciless brutality they share, the Beirut bombings reflect a whole other strain of the war waged by Islamic State: Sunni Muslims targeting Shiite Muslims. The neighbourhood where the blasts took place, Bourj al-Barajneh, shares a close link with the Shiite militia, Hezbollah, who also operate under the official Lebanese military force.
Alongside such affiliations to the Lebanese government, Hezbollah also have strong sympathisers in Iran – also a Shiite Muslims majority – as well as the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria, which they have been assisting in the war against ISIS. Such political and military leanings are said to be the reason the suburban part of Lebanon was attacked late last week.
Thursday’s attacks were the first to take place in the area for over one year, as Lebanon has been experience a steady ascent into political stability. Without a President for more than 18 months, the state of Lebanon has been in political deadlock, with public sector institutions and services nearly grinding to a stand-still on several occasions. However, in recent weeks, there had been a glimmer of hope for the parliamentary progress of Lebanon. Meeting for the first time since May 2014, the parliament convened to address more than 40 draft laws that had been awaiting approval. Over those two days, the parliament approved in the region of three dozen draft laws, including naturalising foreigners with Lebanese origins, improving the army’s infrastructure, and relinquishing Lebanon’s banking secrecy laws.
Thursday’s attacks have left many questioning whether this progressive path for Lebanon will be cut short. However, defiant locals insisted to media that the acts of ISIS terrorists will not slow them down: “The terrorists are not going to make us weak,” one resident and shop owner told reporters at the scene. “Every time they hit us, especially in Dahiyeh [Beirut’s southern suburbs], we become stronger.”
– Izzy Lyons, Correspondent (Asia: Far East)