The victims included security guards working the night shift. Rescuers found a third body in the rubble 12 hours after the early morning explosion on Wednesday.

Lebanese police sources told Aljazeera a bomb weighing about 70kg placed inside a bag near a nightclub caused the blast.

Aljazeera's bureau chief in Beirut, Ghassan bin Jiddu, said the nightclub was closed at the time the bomb went off.

Police said the explosion occurred shortly after midnight in the area of al-Kaslik near Junia, 15km from Beirut.

 

Lebanese television said the blast also injured eight people.

 

Bin Jiddu cited security officials as saying the casualties were Indian nationals. There were two diplomats from Italy in the building adjacent to the commercial centre where the blast occurred. 

Police said the damage to the
shopping centre was extensive

Foreign nationals

There were no Lebanese nationals among the victims, but one Lebanese and two Sri Lankans were among the injured, Aljazeera reported.

Television footage showed extensive damage to the Alta Vista commercial centre, with shards of glass and debris blown across the street.

Al-Kaslik residents, some dazed, others crying, ventured out after sunrise to sweep up glass from shattered shop fronts.  

"We are afraid this is going to keep happening. The country is out of control," George Akl, who was helping his son sweep shattered glass outside his hairdresser salon, said.

Political message

Lebanese MPs said the blast was
meant to sow sectarian unrest

Christian opposition figures who rushed to the scene said the bombing sought to undermine Lebanon's stability and urged supporters to foil any attempts to sow sectarian rifts.

 

"It is clear that those who carried out this attack are targeting the security and stability of the country," opposition member of parliament Faris Buaz said.

 

"It is a political message to the (anti-Syrian) independence uprising."

 

The Christian leaders blamed Lebanon's Syrian-backed security agencies for the blasts, underlining opposition demands for the dismissal of security chiefs and an international investigation into former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri's 14 February assassination.

 

"It has become clear to everyone that the security regime and its collaborators are responsible for terrorising the people that united behind the demands of the opposition," read a statement issued at the end of a Christian opposition meeting in Beirut.

 

Chaos and fear

 

"We are afraid this is going to keep happening. The country is out
of control"

George Akl,
Junia resident

Syrian-backed President Emile Lahud said he had ordered an investigation into the latest blast.

 

Lahud said the attack aimed to drive Lebanon into "chaos and fear" and that renewed calls for talks between opposition and loyalist politicians "as the only means to break the current deadlock and bridge all differences".

 

The explosion, the second in a Christian area in five days, raised tension in a nation already buffeted by a political storm set off by the killing of al-Hariri.

 

Hours after the blast on Wednesday, French President Jacques Chirac urged Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon as soon as possible and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he expected the Syrians to leave before the elections due in May.