Police taped off the area around the blast site, which was littered with debris [Mohamed Mdalla/Anadolu]
Two suicide bombers have blown themselves up outside the United States embassy in the Tunisian capital, killing a policeman and injuring several others, authorities said, in the most serious attack in months.
Witnesses said a man on a motorbike blew himself up near the diplomatic mission in the Berges du Lac district, causing panic among pedestrians at the site.
Photos posted on local news websites showed damaged vehicles on the road outside the embassy.
Sucide attack with a motorbike targeting the US embassy in Tunis, no casualties has been reported yet.Photos grabbed from other twitts. pic.twitter.com/UH94C8o5t5
— Karim Benabdallah (@karim2k) March 6, 2020
Police taped off the area around the blast site, which was littered with debris. The US flag could be seen fluttering in the background.
The US embassy in Tunis said emergency personnel were responding to the explosion.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Emergency personnel are responding to an explosion that occurred near the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Please avoid the area and monitor local media for updates.
— U.S. Embassy Tunis (@usembassytunis) March 6, 2020
The interior ministry said two suicide bombers were killed carrying out the attack, and five police and one civilian were injured.
State news agency TAP, citing the interior ministry, later reported that one of the security officials succumbed to his wounds.
“We heard a very powerful explosion … we saw the remains of the terrorist lying on the ground after he went on the motorbike towards the police,” said Amira, a shopkeeper.
Armed men have targeted Tunisia repeatedly in recent years, killing scores of people.
Last summer, the ISIL (ISIS) group said it was behind three blasts in the capital, including one near the French embassy that killed a policeman and another that wounded five people during a security operation to detain a suspect.
Security forces inspect the blast site near the US embassy [Fethi Belaid/AFP]
Al Jazeera and news agencies
Explosion levels Baltimore homes; 1 dead, 1 trapped
BALTIMORE (AP) — A natural gas explosion destroyed three row houses in Baltimore on Monday, killing a woman and trapping other people in the wreckage. At least four people were hospitalized with serious injuries as firefighters searched for more survivors. Dozens of firefighters converged on the piles of rubble. A fourth house in the row…
BALTIMORE (AP) — A natural gas explosion destroyed three row houses in Baltimore on Monday, killing a woman and trapping other people in the wreckage. At least four people were hospitalized with serious injuries as firefighters searched for more survivors.
Dozens of firefighters converged on the piles of rubble. A fourth house in the row was ripped open, and windows were shattered in nearby homes, leaving the neighborhood strewn with debris and glass.
“It’s a disaster. It’s a mess. It’s unbelievable,” said Diane Glover, who lives across the street. The explosion shattered her windows and blew open her front door, bending the frame. “I’m still shaken up,” she said hours later.
Four of the homes’ occupants were taken to hospitals in serious condition, while an adult woman was pronounced dead at the scene, a fire spokeswoman said. Rescuers were painstakingly going through the wreckage by hand. About two hours after the explosion, a line of firefighters removed a person on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.
Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams said at least five people were inside, maybe more, when the homes exploded.
“They were beneath the rubble,” Adams said. “You have homes that were pretty much crumbled … A ton of debris on the ground. So, we’re pulling and trying to comb through to see if we can find any additional occupants.”
While the cause wasn’t immediately clear, The Baltimore Sun reported last year that dangerous gas leaks have become much more frequent, with nearly two dozen discovered each day on average, according to the utility’s reports to federal authorities. The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has thousands of miles of obsolete pipes that need to be replaced, an effort that would cost nearly $1 billion and take two decades, the newspaper said.
BGE turned off the gas in the immediate area after receiving an “initial call” from the fire department at 9:54 a.m. on Monday, utility spokeswoman Linda Foy said.
“We are on the scene and working closely with the fire department to make the situation safe,” she said, without answering any questions from reporters. “Once the gas is off, we can begin to safely assess the situation, including inspections of BGE equipment.”
Glover, 56, and her 77-year-old father, Moses Glover, were at home when the massive explosion shook their house, knocking over a fan and some of her DVDs.
“I jumped up to see what was going on. I looked out the bathroom window and there was a house on the ground,” she said. “It sounded like a bomb went off.”
Neighbors scrambled toward the rubble, calling out for survivors. Kevin Matthews, who lives on the block, told The Sun that he could hear trapped children shouting: “Come get us! We’re stuck!” Firefighters and police officers then showed up and took over.
BGE asked the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2018 to approve a new gas system infrastructure and a cost recovery mechanism to pay for upgrades needed to close the system’s many leaks.
“Founded in 1816, BGE is the oldest gas distribution company in the nation. Like many older gas systems, a larger portion of its gas main and services infrastructure consists of cast iron and bare steel – materials that are obsolete and susceptible to failure with age,” the utility said.
When aging pipes fail, then tend to make headlines. Last year, a gas explosion ripped the façade off a Maryland office complex in Columbia, affecting more than 20 businesses. No one was injured in the explosion, which happened early on a Sunday morning. In 2016, a gas main break forced the evacuation of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse. Under Armour Inc. had to evacuate its Baltimore office after a gas main break in 2012.
Associated Press contributors include Mike Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Brian Witte in Annapolis, and Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia.
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Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.
Beirut explosion puts Lebanon close to ‘failed state’
Some of Lebanon’s own leaders believed the country was of the verge of becoming a “failed state” even before this week’s horrific Beirut blast, and foreign policy analysts now fear that the carnage — and the apparent failures of government that contributed to it — could fully unravel the country and fuel further chaos across…
Some of Lebanon’s own leaders believed the country was of the verge of becoming a “failed state” even before this week’s horrific Beirut blast, and foreign policy analysts now fear that the carnage — and the apparent failures of government that contributed to it — could fully unravel the country and fuel further chaos across the region.
U.S. and international officials say the cause of the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut on Tuesday has yet to be confirmed, but an accidental fire seems to have set off a warehouse loaded with highly flammable ammonium nitrate. The blast killed at least 135 people, wounded thousands more, left tens of thousands homeless, caused at least $10 billion in damage, and leveled a huge swath of the historic city once hailed as “the Paris of the Middle East.”
The political aftershocks may be just as unsettling.
Combine rising food costs, high unemployment, civil unrest and government corruption with a raging COVID-19 outbreak, and international specialists warn that the tragedy has left Lebanon close to the breaking point.
Unexpected events have been known to spawn revolutionary change, analysts said. The Somoza regime’s corrupt response to the 1972 earthquake helped spark the Nicaraguan civil war, and many say the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine drove the final nail in the coffin for the legitimacy of Soviet leadership.
A collapse of Lebanon, whose 17-year civil war three decades ago proved equally destabilizing for the region, would have ripple effects throughout the Middle East and could threaten the security of the U.S. and its key ally, Israel, especially if the Shiite militant group Hezbollah seizes the opportunity to expand its power and influence.
Lebanon’s neighbor to the east and onetime occupier, Syria, has been fighting its own civil war for the past decade. Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Iran have supported Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. Should the government in Beirut collapse, Hezbollah, Iran and even Russia — also an ally of the Assad regime — likely would move to fill the power vacuum.
Israel and Hezbollah had been trading blows across the tense border in the disputed Golan Heights just days before the port explosion. A political meltdown in Beirut that enhances the power of Hezbollah and its tens of thousands of armed fighters could force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond.
So many in Lebanon thought Israel was behind the port explosion that the Netanyahu government offered a rare total denial of any role barely an hour after the blast.
Against the backdrop of such high geopolitical stakes, experts say, the country faces a defining moment.
“The idea that Lebanon could fall back into civil war is always front and center in the minds of Lebanese …,” said former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Not in almost 50 years, however, has there been such a crisis of legitimacy inside Lebanon.”
He added, “The Lebanese are angry not just at one faction or another, but at the whole system. Disgust is easy to come by; consensus on what comes next is harder.”
Mr. Rubin argued that the Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, failed to develop a clear strategy with respect to Lebanon and often neglected the country while focusing on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya and elsewhere. Because of that, analysts say, Lebanon feels it has been forced to turn to other Western powers for help in its hour of need.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on Thursday and promised an international aid package. That aid, however, must not fall into the “hands of corruption” inside the government, he warned.
“If reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to sink,” said Mr. Macron, hinting at the international community’s reluctance to commit huge sums of money directly to a dysfunctional government.
The U.S., meanwhile, delivered its own aid package. Three C-17s Globemaster transport jets were en route to the nation Thursday with relief including food, water and medical supplies, officials with U.S. Central Command said. U.S. officials also have been in contact with their Lebanese counterparts to discuss the country’s security situation.
The government of President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab already was facing a backlash.
As the international aid made its way to Lebanon, crowds of protesters gathered in Beirut and chanted “Revolution” and other slogans that highlight the deep, widespread anger among the population.
Even before the explosion, top Lebanese officials warned that the country was headed down a dangerous path and seemed unable or unwilling to change course. Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned Monday, saying the government lacked the will to address corruption, fix a broken economy and institute necessary reforms.
“I participated in this government on the basis that I have one employer named Lebanon, and I found in my country many employers and conflicting interests,” he said in his resignation letter. “If they don’t come together around the interests of the Lebanese people and save them, then the ship, God forbid, will sink with everyone on board.”
Lebanon today, he added, “is sliding towards becoming a failed state.”
Mr. Hitti also seemed to take aim at Hezbollah, the face of Lebanon’s Shiites and the most organized and militarily potent of the country’s various factions and religious minorities.
Propped up financially by Tehran, Hezbollah holds significant sway inside the Lebanese government. Lebanon watchers warn that Hezbollah’s power and influence could hamper investigations into the cause of the explosion, especially given speculation that the accelerant may have been kept at the Beirut port as it awaited sale or auction to other entities. Officials with Lebanon’s customs department reportedly tried to sound the alarm about the 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate stored there, but their concerns apparently fell on deaf ears.
“A responsible government would launch an investigation and demand accountability. People would overcome political divisions and forge solidarity to uncover the truth,” wrote Jeffrey Feltman, an international diplomacy fellow at the Brookings Institution. “A legitimate inquiry would necessarily shine light into how Hezbollah has privileged itself in the port and how others involved have long evaded public scrutiny, with deadly consequences.
“But this tragedy, this crime, happened in Lebanon, paradise lost,” he said. “Given the powerful interests in keeping the port operations in shadows and avoiding public accountability, it seems improbable that this Lebanese government … would be courageous enough to take on an honest reckoning of why scores of families are now mourning.”
As the U.S. assesses the damage and the potential impacts on its own security, top American officials have sent conflicting messages about the cause of the blast.
Hours after the incident, President Trump said top U.S. generals had told him the blast was likely an attack on the city.
The next day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper seemed to shoot down that theory.
“Most believe it was an accident, as reported,” he said at this year’s virtual Aspen Security Forum.
Pentagon officials on Thursday tried to clean up the clear discrepancies.
“The president and [Secretary Esper] have both been consistent that we’ve reached no definitive cause for the explosion,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
• Lauren Meier and Mike Glenn contributed to this report.
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Massive explosion shakes Lebanon’s capital Beirut
BEIRUT — A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 60 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said. Hours later, ambulances still carried away the wounded as…
BEIRUT — A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 60 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.
Hours later, ambulances still carried away the wounded as army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.
The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis: Beirut hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies and generators to keep their lights on.
The cause of the blast, which sparked fires, overturned cars and blew out windows and doors, was not immediately known.
Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.
Witnesses reported seeing a strange orange-colored cloud over the site after the explosion. Orange clouds of toxic nitrogen dioxide gas often accompany an explosion involving nitrates.
An Israeli government official said Israel “had nothing to do” with the blast. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. Israeli officials usually do not comment on “foreign reports.”
The blast was stunning even for a city that has seen civil war, suicide bombings and bombardment by Israel. It could be heard and felt as far away as Cyprus, more than 200 kilometers (180 miles) across the Mediterranean.
“It was a real horror show. I haven’t seen anything like that since the days of the (civil) war,” said Marwan Ramadan, who was about 500 meters (yards) from the port and was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion.
Health Minister Hassan Hamad said the preliminary toll was more than 60 dead and more than 3,000 wounded. Emergency teams streamed in from across Lebanon to help, and the injured had to be taken to hospitals outside the capital. Hamad added that hospitals were barely coping and offers of aid were pouring in from Arab states and friends of Lebanon.
Some of those injured lay on the ground at the port, Associated Press staff at the scene said. A civil defense official said there were still bodies inside the port, many under debris.
Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, broke into tears as he toured the site, saying, “Beirut is a devastated city.”
Initially, video taken by residents showed a fire raging at the port, sending up a giant column of smoke, illuminated by flashes of what appear to be fireworks. Local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved.
The fire then appeared to catch at a nearby building, triggering a more massive explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and a shock wave.
Charbel Haj, who works at the port, said it started as small explosions like firecrackers. Then, he said, he was thrown off his feet by the huge blast. His clothes were torn.
Miles from the port, building facades were shredded, balconies were knocked down and windows shattered. Streets were covered with glass and bricks and lined with wrecked cars. Motorcyclists picked their way through traffic, carrying the injured.
One woman covered in blood from the waist up walked down a trashed street while talking furiously on her phone. On another street, a woman with a bloodied face looked distraught, staggering through traffic with two friends at her side.
“This country is cursed,” a young man passing by muttered.
The blast came at a time when Lebanon’s economy is facing collapse from the financial crisis and the coronavirus restrictions. Many have lost jobs, while the worth of their savings has evaporated as the currency has plunged in value against the dollar. The result has thrown many into poverty.
It also occurred amid rising tensions between Israel and the militant Hezbollah group along Lebanon’s southern border.
The explosion was reminiscent of massive blasts during Lebanon’s civil war and took place only three days before a U.N.-backed tribunal was set to give its verdict in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a truck bombing more than 15 years ago. That explosion, with a ton of explosives, was felt miles away, just like Tuesday’s explosion.
Several of Beirut’s hospitals were damaged in the blast. Roum Hospital put out a call for people to bring it spare generators to keep its electricity going as it evacuated patients because of heavy damage.
Outside the St. George University Hospital in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood, people with various injuries arrived in ambulances, in cars and on foot. The explosion had caused major damage inside the building and knocked out the electricity at the hospital. Dozens of injured were being treated on the spot on the street outside, on stretchers and wheelchairs.
“This is a catastrophe we have on our hands,” said one doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make press statements.
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Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.
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