TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Cars carrying flower-covered coffins rolled through the shuttered streets of the northern city of Tripoli on Saturday, as solemn residents began to bury dozens of victims of a twin car bombing and clerics issued a call for neighborhood militias to provide security.
Soldiers and militiamen patrolled the tense port city as the death toll from the coordinated explosions outside two packed Sunni mosquesFriday climbed to 47, according to police officials. At the bomb sites, teams continued to pull burned body parts from the wreckage and mangled cars were towed away.
The country observed an official day of mourning, its second in less than 10 days following a car bombing in a largely Shiite area of Beirut’s southern suburbs this month. The explosions have stoked fears that Lebanon, which has seen a slow deterioration in its security since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, could enter a phase of retaliatory bombings targeting civilians, a phenomenon not seen since the days of its own 15-year civil war.
Volunteers swept up glass and shifted rubble at the bomb site outside the al-Salam mosque, the first hit Friday shortly before prayers began. Blood spatters 12 feet up the walls remained as testament to the horror. Sheikh Salem Rifei and Sheikh Bilal Baroudi, the imams of the two targeted mosques, surveyed the damage and discussed the likely response.
“Tripoli will be the only city in Lebanon that has security provided by its people,” Rifei said to a crowd gathered outside near a large crater that marked the center of the blast. Earlier in the day, the city’s clerics had released a statement saying that if the state was not able to safeguard the city, its citizens would be forced to do it themselves, underscoring the mounting lack of faith in Lebanon’s institutions.
While police and soldiers had cordoned off the bomb site at al-Salam, which is located in a wealthy neighborhood, at the second target, the nearby al-Taqwa mosque, militiamen had felt compelled to take matters into their own hands.
There, the explosion was so powerful that medics on the scene said they found half the body of a shoe-seller who sat near the mosque’s entrance 300 yards away on a street behind it.
“This is the job of the army, the Lebanese regime, but they are not here,” said Abu Berra, a Sunni member of a local neighborhood militia, as he stopped cars he deemed suspicious to check for explosives.
Abu Berra said calls for neighborhood groups to take full responsibility for security in their areas, as the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah effectively does in the southern suburbs of Beirut, were unrealistic.
“We cannot,” he said. “We have our work. We have our families. We aren’t a big party like Hezbollah.”
Abdullah Bayrouti, one of a smattering of police officers present taking down details of damaged cars, said that security forces had stayed away because al-Taqwa is close to the fractious neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. “There’s no mixing between them and the army, that’s why the army doesn’t come,” he said, referring to the Sunni militiamen.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but many, including Abu Berra, blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, and on Saturday police arrested two sheikhs with the pro-Assad Islamic Tawheed Movement in connection with the bombings.
For many in Lebanon, fear is what comes next. Abdulkhader Alameddine, 70, was laying his father-in-law, killed in the first bombing, to rest in a mosque near the port Saturday.
“Of course we fear that we will have bombings in different cities, maybe in Tripoli, maybe in Beirut,” he said.
His son, Saad, 25, who moved back to Lebanon a week ago from the United States, where he was studying, said that if his parents could move with him he would not stay.
“You have to blame the politicians, who can’t keep this land secure,” he said.