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Al Qaeda-linked group claims Beirut bombings

By Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed a twin bomb attack in Beirut on Wednesday, saying such attacks would continue until Hezbollah forces withdrew from the fighting in Syria and its own fighters were released from Lebanese jails.

The radical Lebanese group, which claimed the attack on its Twitter account, also said it was responsible for a November 19 attack on the Iranian embassy that killed 23 people, using the same tactic of twin suicide bombs. In both cases, most of the victims were civilians.

Hezbollah is a powerful Shi'ite Muslim political and militant group in Lebanon that is funded by Iran. The group has sent hundreds of fighters to neighboring Syria, giving a boost to its ally President Bashar al-Assad against mainly Sunni rebels seeking to topple him.

"We will continue - through the grace of God and his strength - to target Iran and its party in Lebanon (Hezbollah) in all of their security, political and military centers to achieve our two demands: One, the exit of all fighters from the Party of Iran in Syria. Two, the release of all our prisoners from oppressive Lebanese prisons," the statement said.

The three-year uprising in Syria, which began as popular protests but descended into civil war, has increasingly been taken over by Sunni Islamist groups. Some rebel groups have affinities or direct links to al Qaeda or militant groups in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades have strong links to Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps as well as connections with the Gulf. One of its senior military leaders, Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, was a Saudi national. He was arrested by Lebanese authorities last December, who said he died from kidney failure while in their custody.

Several other figures said to be linked to the group have been captured by Lebanese intelligence forces in recent months. Last week, the army arrested Naim Abbas, a man suspected of being a leading member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Lebanese military forces described Abbas as the "mastermind of car bombs" that have targeted Shi'ite areas in recent months, of which there have been at least nine.

The attacks have targeted Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods around the capital Beirut and towns on the northern Syrian-Lebanese border, where Hezbollah is also powerful.

In its Wednesday statement, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades said its attacks were a sign of solidarity with the Syrian uprising, now nearly three years old.

"We say to the people of Syria, rejoice, for your blood is our blood, and the Party of Iran (Hezbollah) will not enjoy safety in Lebanon until safety is returned to you in Syria."

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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