A car bomb, “most likely” driven by a suicide bomber, killed six U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon on Sunday, a police source said.
It was the first deadly attack on the 13,000-strong United Nations force since last year’s Israel-Hezbollah war and drew swift condemnation from the United States, France and others.
The police source said a mangled car was found at the scene with human remains inside. Security sources had said earlier the blast was caused by a roadside bomb detonated by remote control.
A United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) statement said six soldiers had been killed and two wounded in the attack.
Earlier, Spanish Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said two Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers, all serving in the Spanish army, had been killed in the blast. The ministry later confirmed one of three wounded Spanish soldiers had subsequently died.
Alonso told a news conference in Madrid that the blast could have been caused by a car bomb or a remote-controlled device.
“We are working on the theory of a terrorist attack. In the last few weeks there have been many incidents which have destabilized Lebanon. We were on high alert and we had stepped up security,” Alonso said.
The minister said he would fly to Beirut later to collect the bodies.
The attack hit two U.N. vehicles near the southern town of Khiyam. Witnesses said ammunition in a troop carrier had exploded after the initial blast. Two soldiers on top of the vehicle were blown dozens of meters (yards) into a field. Two of those who died inside were burnt beyond recognition.
No immediate claim
There was no immediate claim for the attack, which occurred just hours after Lebanese troops killed seven Islamist militants in a raid on a block of flats in the northern city of Tripoli.
A spokesman for Fatah al-Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired Sunni group which has been battling Lebanese troops in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli for the past five weeks, accused UNIFIL on June 2 of bombarding the camp. UNIFIL denied it.
A few days later, a small bomb was found and defused in Tyre, near a beach resort frequented by UNIFIL personnel.
UNIFIL had gone on higher alert after the Nahr al-Bared camp fighting began. Blast walls were erected around the building housing United Nations agencies in downtown Beirut.
Last Sunday two rockets fired from south Lebanon landed in Israel, causing no casualties. Hezbollah denied involvement.
UNIFIL’s previous commander said this year that Sunni Islamist militants were his biggest security worry.
The Shi’ite Hezbollah group, which has had no visible armed presence in the south since the July-August 2006 war, denounced what it called an attack aimed at destabilizing the country, saying it “hurts the people of the south and of Lebanon.”
Lebanese politicians flocked to condemn the bombing, which Saad al-Hariri, Sunni leader of the ruling Western-backed coalition, described as “a grave terrorist attack.”
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called his Spanish counterpart to decry the bombing. In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s in denouncing the attack.
Spain has 1,100 troops serving in the UNIFIL force which patrols the south and Lebanese coastal waters.
Before Sunday’s attack, UNIFIL had suffered 260 fatalities since it was set up after a 1978 Israeli invasion.