By Doreen Abi Raad
Catholic News Service
BEIRUT (CNS) — Suicide bombers attacked a predominantly Christian village in northeast Lebanon twice in one day, and residents called on the government to support them, saying Islamic State fighters were holed up on the outskirts of town.
Two separate sets of four suicide bombers attacked the village of Qaa June 27; the first attack killed five people in addition to the bombers. About 30 people were injured in the two incidents, the second of which occurred near St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church as people were preparing for the funerals of the people killed in the first bombing.
The incidents sparked fears that the Syrian civil war was spilling into Lebanon; Qaa is near the border with Syria’s Homs district. Local news reports and security sources said the Islamic State group was suspected of the attacks, but no one claimed responsibility. The Lebanese Army has indicated Islamic State hopes to force the Christian community to leave the village and, by controlling Qaa, its militants will be able to start ensure a corridor to the Mediterranean Sea.
Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Rahal of Baalbek traveled to Qaa after the first attack and told Catholic News Service by phone: “We pray, we pray, we pray for the dead, for the injured. … We are here for the families and for their children,” he said, because people “are shaken by these terrorists.”
The sounds of people wailing could be heard in the background as he spoke to CNS.
“Despite all that has happened,” he said, the Christians are holding on to their faith and are determined to maintain their presence in the area. “We are here and we are here to stay.”
Before the second blast, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham had visited with wounded who had been taken to a Beirut hospital, about 90 miles from the village.
Residents of Qaa had organized patrols to guard their village against such attacks and had been successful until these suicide bombings. The village has a population of about 15,000, predominantly Melkite Catholic, with some Maronite Catholic and Orthodox. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Syrian refugees also live in the area.
Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, issued a statement June 27 during a pastoral visit to New York, expressing his “extreme sorrow” over the bombings.
“The hand of terror carried out once again on Lebanon’s soil … in the dear town of Qaa , a town of peace, love and coexistence,” he said.
He called on the Lebanese to “return to their national unity and solidarity to confront the terrorist schemes that are being plotted against Lebanon” and urged the Lebanese officials to “shoulder their national responsibilities in order to spare Lebanon more tragedies.”
Lebanon’s army has periodically fought off jihadist factions along the border area with Syria and has sought to clamp down on local cells operating in the area.