More than 100 dead and 250 wounded, that was the bloody tally of Sunni Taliban and al-Qaeda assaults on Shiites as they celebrated the Ashura festival on Dec. 27-28.
They were targeted in four countries, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Kashmir, as they commemorated the death in 680 CE of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, at the hands of the armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid.
Although Iraq and the Pakistani town of Karachi suffered the highest death tolls of 40 and 43 respectively, the act of terror loaded with the most significance took place in the Hert Hreik neighborhood of South Beirut on Saturday night, December 26. A car blew up in streets packed with tens of thousands of local Shiite Muslims, all members of the Hizballah constituency, at the start of their Ashura celebrations.
As part of Hizballah's fortified security zone in South Beirut, the entire neighborhood is guarded by Hizballah checkpoints and patrols.
Nevertheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources report, an al-Qaeda team managed to enter by mingling in with the street crowds. When it reached the Palestinian Hamas' operational headquarters embedded there, the team planted three or four bombs near the building and under Hamas-owned vehicles. They then detonated the charges in a way to cause maximum injury to the Palestinians inside and outside the building.
Large Hizballah security forces quickly cordoned off the area. To conceal the number of casualties, the bodies and wounded were carried to Lebanese military clinics and treated by Hizballah physicians.
Al Qaeda is staking claim against Hamas to entire Gaza Strip
Hizballah has not officially acknowledged any casualties, whereas the Hamas official Osama Hamdan has admitted two deaths, those of Rassal Jum'aa, head of Hamas security in Beirut and his bodyguard, Said Haddad. According to our counter-terrorism sources, Hizballah sustained at least ten dead and Hamas eight, including the two admitted. At least 35 terrorists and their executives were injured.
The attack occurred when Hizballah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah was delivering his annual Ashura speech, which was pre-recorded as usual.
The first attack to occur inside Hizballah's heavily guarded perimeter finds the Iran-backed militia reeling from shock almost a week later, for the three following reasons:
1. Since it was closed off in the early 1990's, no hostile force has ever penetrated this fortified zone – save once, when Hizballah's military liaison officer with Hamas was assassinated, apparently by an Israeli Mossad team.
2. The Ashura attack was clearly planned with high professionalism, demonstrating the superb quality of al Qaeda intelligence capabilities in Lebanon and major flaws in Hizballah's undercover and security mechanisms.
If al-Qaeda can reach Hamas HQ and blow it up, it could just as easily have accessed Hizballah's most secret facilities and may still do so.
3. Hizballah and Hamas leaders are well aware that the target was chosen for a reason. It housed the high command of Hizballah-Hamas operational collaboration in the Gaza Strip.
And that is where al Qaeda has big plans.
Moving in fast of late on the southern part of the enclave, al Qaeda followers now control entire boroughs of the Palestinian towns of Rafah, Khan Younis and Dir al-Balah. Hamas was hit to relay a message that al Qaeda was now ready to stake its claim for control of the entire Gaza Strip.