A vehicle burns at the site of an explosion in the northern Lebanese city… (Adel Karroum / EPA )
BEIRUT -- A pair of apparent car bombs exploded outside two mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, killing at least a dozen people and injuring scores, authorities said.
Local news accounts said the death toll was at least 27, with more than 300 wounded, and blamed the attacks on car bombs detonated on a day when worshipers gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers.
Video from the scenes showed cars ablaze and people running through the streets in panic.
The explosions appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks that have stunned Lebanon and stoked sectarian strife in the small but strategically situated Middle East nation, which endured a ruinous civil war that ended in 1990 after 15 years of violence. Lebanon borders Syria and Israel.
In recent months, Lebanese officials have voiced fears that the nation’s security is increasingly under threat. The war raging in neighboring Syria has deepened the sectarian divide in Lebanon, where the population of 4 million is split about the conflict in which mostly Sunni Muslim rebels are fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Lebanon has become a recruiting ground for militiamen fighting on both sides of the Syrian civil war. Weapons destined for armed factions inside Syria have been smuggled across the border from Lebanon.
Earlier this month, a car bomb placed in a densely populated area of the southern Beirut suburbs killed some two dozen people and injured nearly 300. That attack appeared aimed at the district’s largely Shiite population.
The blasts on Friday occurred at Sunni mosques in the coastal city of Tripoli, which has become a stronghold of fundamentalist Sunnis. A pair of well-known sheiks at the two mosques survived the blasts, reports indicated. Both of the preachers had reportedly taken strong public stances against the Syrian government.
Following Friday’s incidents, various Lebanese leaders denounced the blasts as an attempt to stir up sectarian hatred. Such comments have become routine following deadly attacks in Lebanon.
Tripoli has seen many outbreaks of violence since the civil war ignited in Syria two years ago. Gun battles between pro- and anti-Assad factions in Tripoli have cost dozens of lives in the last two years.
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Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.