BEIRUT -- A car bomb exploded Thursday across from Hezbollah's main political office in southern Beirut, killing at least five people and wounding dozens.
Lebanese army officials said the estimated 45-pound bomb exploded in a Jeep Cherokee shortly after 4 p.m., and that the vehicle "contained body parts," which led authorities to speculate that the explosion was the work of a suicide bomber.
Political violence tied to the civil war in Syria has essentially shattered a nation already divided on sectarian lines, with many Sunni Muslims supporting the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the Shiite Muslim community -- dominated by Hezbollah -- has cast its lot with Mr. Assad. Both sides have seen communities targeted by bombs and rocket fire, and last week a prominent Sunni politician, former Finance Minister Mohammed Chatah, was killed in a car bombing in downtown Beirut.
The scene of Thursday's blast exemplified the complexity of Lebanon's politics, with army units and government rescue crews -- symbols of the Lebanese state -- mixing with dozens of armed and unarmed security personnel deployed to the area by Hezbollah, which operates as a better-organized state within a state. As is common in south Beirut, which Hezbollah controls, the soldiers deferred to the Shiite militants on matters of security.
The bomb ripped the facade off an apartment building and burned several cars a few yards from the offices of Hezbollah's politburo, which represents the group's political interests. The group said none of its personnel had been injured, although Hezbollah commonly obscures its casualties for security reasons.
Bilal Farhat, a member of Parliament from Hezbollah's political bloc, said the group would be patient in responding to the blast -- despite an increasingly angry Shiite community that has been hit by three such bombs in the past few months -- because "despite the wounds, ... Lebanon won't benefit from any bloodshed."
The bomb came a day after Lebanese authorities confirmed the arrest of a Saudi militant in connection with November's double suicide bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut -- which killed 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat -- just a mile or so from Thursday's bombing. Majid al-Majid, allegedly the head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a group that describes itself as al-Qaida's representative in Lebanon, was arrested sometime in early December; authorities have refused to say when or where.
"We believe that this prisoner is" Mr. Majid, said a Lebanese security official, who added that the government hadn't intended to make the announcement for another week, while the suspect was questioned, in order not to alert members of his group. Because of the news blackout, the official spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Majid was named on a 2009 list of Saudi Arabia's 85 most-wanted militants with al-Qaida links, and he had been long rumored to be living in Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, Ain el-Hilweh, in the southern city of Sidon.
U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters news service that the news of the arrest was thought to be credible, and that Lebanese law enforcement was interrogating Mr. Majid.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which announced its first operations in 2005, was the result of a decision by the then head of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to send several Lebanese and Saudi militants to Ain el-Hilweh to form a new militant organization. The group had taken credit for a number of small-scale attacks in Lebanon, Oman, Jordan and Egypt before the Nov. 19 bombing of the Iranian Embassy. At the time, the group put out a statement demanding that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah immediately halt their overt military support for Mr. Assad.