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Al-Qaida-linked group issues rare apology for civilian deaths in Feb. 19 Beirut bombings

Blast killed 8 people and wounded dozens, including children from a nearby orphanage

BEIRUT — A militant group issued a rare apology Saturday for a twin suicide bombing in Beirut that killed eight people and wounded dozens, including children from a nearby orphanage.

The al-Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades issued a statement on militant websites apologizing for civilian deaths.

It said a “technical fault” affected the second of two Feb. 19 suicide bombings targeting an Iranian cultural center in Beirut, but didn’t specify what it was. The group insisted its suicide bombers were trained to not target civilians.

“We affirm, always to our suicide bombers, to be cautious, and to abort any operation if they believe it will hit others but the targeted,” it said.

More than a dozen bombings have targeted Shiite-dominated areas of Lebanon in recent months.

Many have been claimed by the hard-line Sunni Nusra Front in Lebanon. They have said they are seeking revenge against Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah group for supporting President Bashar Assad. The bulk of the casualties are usually civilians. The claims of responsibility usually name Shiite neighborhoods that are traditionally supportive of Hezbollah as the targets, as opposed to the group’s fighters or offices.

Lebanon is deeply split over Syria’s civil war, which has become increasingly sectarian. Assad comes from a Shiite offshoot sect and the rebels fighting him are dominated by Sunnis.

The Brigades said their target was Hezbollah and Iranian interests in Lebanon. Unusually, it said explicitly it was not attacking Shiites in general.

“The two bombs were meant to be in a place where the shrapnel of the explosion would not reach the main road,” the statement said. “The Azzam (bombing) operations do not target Shiites in general, nor other sects.”

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for two of those attacks: a twin suicide bombing attack outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Nov. 19 that killed at least 23 people — mostly civilians. The other was the Feb. 19 attack.

The apology was a rare instance of contrition by an al-Qaida group. While militant Sunni groups across the Mideast differ in how extreme they are, most celebrate high death tolls. Some use language implying the civilian dead are enemy fighters or agents, others use language implying they are heretics, and some justify civilian deaths by saying the innocent are “human shields” whom God will nonetheless reward in Paradise.

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