At least 42 people have been killed and more than 400 injured by two huge blasts in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, health officials say.

As Friday prayers ended, a blast hit the al-Taqwa mosque, usually attended by prominent Sunni cleric Sheikh Salem Rafii. He was unharmed, reports the BBC.

A second blast five minutes later hit the al-Salam mosque.

War in neighbouring Syria has raised sectarian tensions between the city’s Sunni Muslim and Alawite communities.

The latest attacks will increase tensions in Tripoli between the Sunni Muslim majority, which supports opposition fighters in Syria, and its Alawite community that remains loyal to the Syrian president.

These blasts come exactly a week after a bombing in southern Beirut killed more than 20 people. The suburbs hit in that attack were a stronghold of the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, that is also allied with the Syrian government.

These are worrying times for the Lebanese.

Sheikh Salem Rafii is one of the most prominent Sunni leaders in Lebanon, BBC Arabic reports from Beirut, and is believed to be a possible target.

He is opposed to Lebanon’s militant Shia Hezbollah group and has previously urged the country’s young men to join opposition fighters in Syria.

It is not clear whether he was at the al-Taqwa mosque at the time of the attack, although some reports say he was giving a sermon.

The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Beirut says the cleric is expected to issue a statement after meeting the Muslim Clerics’ Council, the umbrella body for Lebanese Sunni leaders.

Ambulances rushed to the aftermath of the blasts and heavy black smoke covered the sky.

“It was as if there was an earthquake, the whole city seemed to be shaking,” a local resident told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.

Television pictures showed damaged cars on fire, with their windows smashed, and people running through the streets trying to carry wounded people to safety.

Bodies could be seen on the ground and windows were broken on surrounding apartment blocks.


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