A car bomb exploded during the morning rush hour today about 50 yards from the British Embassy in Christian East Beirut, and police reported that 12 people were killed and 75 wounded.
A radio station said that the embassy may have been the intended target of the attack and that officials there had received threats from people offended by Salman Rushdie’s book, “The Satanic Verses.”
The blast came during a lull in several days of fierce fighting between Christian and Muslim forces. No group claimed responsibility for the bomb.
The car, packed with an estimated 110 pounds of TNT, blew up outside the Abu Habib bakery on the coastal highway in suburban Jal el Deeb at 10:45 a.m., a police spokesman said.
The blast destroyed the one-story bakery. The bloodstained wreckage was strewn with pieces of human flesh, the spokesman said.
He said a travel agency on the ground floor of the six-story building that houses the British Embassy was completely wrecked. But the only damage to the third-floor embassy was broken windows.
Gunmen of the Lebanese Forces, the Christians’ main militia, fired automatic weapons in the air to clear a path for ambulances and fire engines through the devastated street.
Nervous Lebanese guards of the embassy crouched at corners around the building, fired machine-gun volleys into the air and prevented reporters from entering the building.
The explosion set several shops and cars ablaze. Fire crews doused the fire with water, and ambulance teams picked up bodies from the dripping wreckage.
Syrian Army Accused
The army command of Gen. Michel Aoun, whose mainly Christian troops have been battling Muslim Druze militiamen for nine days, accused the Syrian army in Muslim West Beirut of planting the bomb.
Aoun’s headquarters charged in a communique that the Syrians, who support Lebanon’s Muslims and control security in West Beirut, engineered the bombing to provoke new fighting between the rival forces in the divided capital.
But Aoun’s communique stressed: “Our army units will not be dragged into bombarding our people in West Beirut.”
Today’s explosion was the fifth car bombing in Lebanon this year. At least 13 people were killed and 68 wounded in the previous bombings.