Suicide bombings kill at least five people in eastern Lebanon
AL-QAA (Lebanon) - A string of suicide bombings early Monday killed at least five people in a Lebanese village near the volatile border with war-ravaged Syria.
The attack came just hours after the Islamic State group on Sunday claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb that killed seven soldiers on Jordan's border with Syria.
Monday's deadly blasts struck Al-Qaa, a predominantly Christian village nestled in a hilly border area shaken by violence since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011.
At least four suicide bombers hit the village before dawn, a military source said.
"The first attacker knocked on one of the homes in the village, but after the resident became suspicious, he blew himself up," the source said.
He said three other suicide attackers detonated their own explosives as people began gathering to treat the wounded.
A correspondent in the village said security forces had cordoned off the site of the blasts, which lies on a main road linking the Syrian town of Al-Qusayr to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley.
The road cuts through a residential area in the centre of Al-Qaa, and the explosions took place less than 100 meters (yards) from the village church.
"Al-Qaa is the gateway to the rest of Lebanon, and here we stopped a plan for a much bigger explosion," said Al-Qaa mayor Bashir Matar.
He confirmed that the second and third suicide attackers detonated their explosives "as people gathered to treat the wounded."
"We chased the fourth attacker and shot at him, and he blew himself up," Matar said, adding that five villagers had been killed in the attack.
George Kettaneh of the Lebanese Red Cross said the blast had left "at least eight killed including three suicide bombers."
He said 15 other people were wounded, including some in critical condition.
A statement from Lebanon's army said at least four soldiers were wounded in the string of attacks, which the country's national news agency reported took place at 10 minute intervals.
Al-Qaa is one of several border posts separating Lebanon and war-torn Syria.
Al-Qaa's residents are mostly Christian, but one district called Masharia Al-Qaa is home to Sunni Muslims.
And displaced Syrians fleeing the war next door have set up an informal camp adjacent to the village.
The border area has been rocked by clashes, shelling, and suicide attacks since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011.
Resident Fadi Bsherrawi said he woke up when he heard the first blast, but went back to sleep thinking it was just fighting near the border.
"I really woke up to the sound of the second attack," he said.
He spoke with neighbours after the attack who told him that one Muslim resident was having a morning meal before beginning his day of fasting for Ramadan when he saw a strange group of men outside.
"He went outside to talk to them and they wanted to stir things up. So his son fired on them with a hunting rifle" before the explosions started, Bsherrawi said.
Local paramedics began to arrive after the first suicide attack.
"One rescue worker who was trying to carry a wounded man was killed when the second terrorist suicide bomber came," he said.
"We have guards all the time. The village is always ready and people are on edge," he added.
Suicide blasts in the area have typically targeted checkpoints or military installations and rarely include more than one attacker.
But blasts in densely-populated areas in Beirut throughout 2013 and most recently in November have been much deadlier.
On November 12, more than 40 people were killed in twin suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group in a southern Beirut neighbourhood.
ISIS late Sunday claimed responsibility for a blast earlier this week that left seven Jordanian soldiers dead and 13 others wounded, according to the jihadist-linked news agency Amaq.
Quoting an unnamed source, the Amaq statement said Tuesday's attack "was carried out by an Islamic State fighter."
Lebanon's army has fought off jihadist factions along the frontier and has sought to clamp down on local cells operating in the area.
In August 2014, the army clashed with the IS and Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, in the border town of Arsal.