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Suspect arrested in deadly Lebanon explosions (PHOTOS)

Powerful explosions rocked the port city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon on Friday, just as Muslims were exiting midday prayers.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A suspect linked to the twin explosions that hit Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli was arrested Saturday as the death toll rose to 47.

Sheikh Ahmad Gharib, 40, was arrested at his home in Minyeh. Authorities found guns, explosives and maps of the northern city inside, judicial sources told Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star.

Both blasts took place near mosques just as Muslims were exiting midday prayers. The first hit near the Taqwa Mosque, while the other took place near the Salam Mosque, local television network al-Jadeed reported.

The latest figures on casualties from health ministry officials showed at least 47 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the blasts.

Ambulances reportedly rushed to the sites of the explosions, at al-Taqwa mosque in Tripoli's Abu Ali square, and outside the al-Salam mosque in the central Mina area. Both mosques are Sunni, according to the AP.

Prominent Sunni leader Sheikh Salem Rafii is believed to be a possible target, according to the BBC. He usually attends Friday prayers at the Taqwa mosque and was reportedly not harmed in the blasts.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and called for restraint.

A spokesman for the Secretary-General said he asked all Lebanese to "remain united... in maintaining calm and order in Tripoli and throughout the country, and in preventing the recurrence of such destructive actions."

The Daily Star reported that the cause of the explosions was two car bombs, citing the health minister.

"It was as if there was an earthquake: the whole city seemed to be shaking," Nada Fallah told The Daily Star.

Speaking from Tripoli, a Syrian refugee living with family nearby to the site of one of the explosions told GlobalPost he witnessed the destruction.

"I just left the scene because there was a lot of shooting so I ran away. The army was shooting in the air. A lot of armed [civilians] people in the street. All the roads are blocked now," he said.

"I saw everything. It is very bad. A lot of cars and buildings destroyed. Many people were coming out of the mosque from praying and the car exploded. They are still searching for people in the rubble until now."

The witness added that the impact from the blast was massive. "My cousin has a flower shop. It is very far from the blast. All the glass is broken."

The streets are now empty, "aside from armed gangs," he said. "All the people are hiding in their houses."

Photos posted on social media showed large clouds of smoke rising above the city:

The blasts come hours after Israel said its air force had bombed a "terrorist site" in northern Lebanon in response to cross-border rocket fire. 

Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia militant organization designated as a terrorist group by many countries, condemned the explosions Friday.

"These twin terrorist explosions are part of a criminal plan aiming to plant the seeds of strife between Lebanese and drag them into fighting under the banner of confessionalism and sectarianism," Hezbollah said, according to The Daily Star.

Sectarian fighting tends to flare up in Lebanon every few weeks, but has intensified in the time since the Syrian civil conflict began. Friday's explosions took an unusually heavy toll.

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Tracey Shelton contributed reporting from Beirut.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/lebanon/130823/explosions-tripoli-northern-lebanon