BEIRUT — An al-Qaida linked group claimed responsibility Saturday for a suicide car bombing last week in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon, as its fighters fought other rebels in neighboring Syria in the most serious infighting since the uprising began.
It was the first time at the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for an attack in Lebanon, underscoring how the ever more complex Syrian war is increasingly spilling into its smaller neighbor.
The group might have rushed to claim responsibility to try to divert attention from the infighting in Syria, said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on the country’s militant groups.
At least five people were killed in the Thursday attack that targeted a south Beirut neighborhood that is bastion of support for the Shiite group Hezbollah.
ISIL vowed more attacks.
It was “the first small payment of a heavy account which these criminal hypocrites should wait for,” it said in a statement, referring to Hezbollah. The statement was posted on a website used by Sunni militants.
The al-Qaida group sought to punish Hezbollah — and their ordinary Shiite Lebanese backers — for sending fighters to Syria to shore up forces of the Syrian president Bashar Assad.
The bombing was the latest in a wave of attacks to hit Lebanon in recent months. The violence has targeted Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods, further stoking sectarian tensions already running high as each community in Lebanon lines up with its brethren in Syria on opposing sides of the war.
It also reflected how Lebanese are turning on each other. On Saturday, Lebanese authorities confirmed the identity of the suicide bomber, the state news agency reported. Local media identified him as a Lebanese citizen from a northern border town with Syria.
Thursday’s bombing came a week after a car bombing in Beirut killed prominent Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah.