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Beirut (AFP) – A double suicide bombing outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed at least 23 people on Tuesday, in an attack claimed by an Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group.

The Lebanese army said the first blast was caused by a motorcyclist who blew himself up moments before a suicide bomber driving a four-wheel-drive detonated his payload in southern Beirut.

The mid-morning attack, which also wounded almost 150 people in a stronghold of the Hezbollah movement, is the first time the Iranian embassy has been targeted.

The blasts ripped the facades off surrounding buildings, strewing rubble and glass on streets that were stained with blood.

Residents walked dazed past charred cars and trees, as soldiers and Hezbollah security men tried to secure the area.

The attack follows two other bombings this year in Hezbollah bastions in southern Beirut, amid rising tensions over the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Iran is one of Syria’s closest allies, and is the key sponsor of Hezbollah, which has dispatched thousands of fighters to bolster the regime as it battles a 32-month uprising.

Damascus quickly condemned Tuesday’s attack.

“The Syrian government firmly condemns the terrorist attack carried out near the Iranian embassy in Beirut,” state television said.

It said an “odor of petrodollars comes from all the terrorist acts against Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which back Syria’s uprising.

Iran also condemned the attack, accusing Israel and its “mercenaries” of responsibility. Israel immediately denied involvement.

Britain and France issued swift statements slamming the bombings, which London described as a “shocking terrorist attack”.

The blasts were claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has previously fired rockets at Israel from Lebanese territory.

“This is a double martyrdom operation carried out by two heroes from the heroic Sunnis of Lebanon,” Sirajeddin Zreikat, a member of the group, wrote on his Twitter account.

The Lebanese army confirmed the attack was a double suicide bombing, and the health ministry said 23 people were dead and 146 wounded.

“The first explosion was caused by a suicide attacker who was driving a motorcycle and blew himself up. The second suicide attacker was driving a 4×4 vehicle and also detonated himself,” the army said.

‘Charred bodies on fire’

Iran’s ambassador to Beirut, Ghazanfar Rokn-Abadi, said all staff inside the embassy at the time of the attack escaped unharmed.

But state media in Tehran said an Iranian national working as an embassy guard had been killed.

Earlier, the ambassador and other officials said an Iranian cultural adviser had been killed, but the foreign ministry in Tehran said later he was still showing “signs of life”.

‘Act of savagery’

An AFP correspondent at the scene described blood and glass on the streets, and Lebanese media broadcast harrowing images of charred bodies, some still on fire.

One shocked resident said the attack was an act of “savagery”.

“People want to live. After this kind of thing we are paralyzed for days. Thank God my children were at school,” said Farah, a woman in her 30s.

At the nearby Rasul Aazem hospital, which received seven bodies from the blasts, relatives waited to hear news of their loved ones while others queued to donate blood.

At the Zahraa hospital, Mohamed al-Hajj was searching for his neighbour Tariq.

“He works in front of the embassy and now we don’t know where he is. We checked all the hospitals,” he told AFP.

Hezbollah has already seen its strongholds in southern Beirut targeted twice by car bombs this year, on July 9 and August 15, killing 27 people.

Its involvement in Syria has angered many Lebanese Sunni Muslims who back the war-hit country’s Sunni-dominated opposition.

It has also raised fears Lebanon could be engulfed by the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 120,000 people since March 2011.

But Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah pledged just last week that he would not withdraw his forces.

“We have said on several occasions that the presence of our soldiers on Syrian soil is to defend… Syria, which supports the resistance” against Israel, he said.

“So long as that reason exists, our presence there is justified.”

Nasrallah’s defiance was echoed by some residents after Tuesday’s blasts.

“Even if they do a million explosions, we will not leave the area,” said Ali, accusing “Salafis from Syria” of being behind the attacks.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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