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Blasts kill 2 in southern Beirut

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BASSEM MROUE | February 19, 2014 04:39 AM EST | AP

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BEIRUT (AP) — Two suicide attackers from an al-Qaida-linked group blew themselves up Wednesday trying to hit an Iranian cultural center in a Shiite district in southern Beirut, killing at least two people, according to security officials and the militants. It was the latest attack linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, which security officials said was believed to have been carried out by two suicide bombers.

Officials said another 38 people were wounded. They spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to talk to the press.

An Associated Press photographer in the Bir Hassan area where the blast occurred said he heard two explosions near the Kuwaiti Embassy and Iran's cultural center. Fire engines and ambulances rushed to the area and were seen evacuating some of the wounded in stretchers. Soldiers also deployed and cordoned the area.

Blast walls were set up in front of the Iranian cultural center recently apparently for fear of such attacks.

The explosions were also close to an orphanage house run by an Islamic charity and an army barracks, the officials said.

A wave of bombings linked to the war in neighboring Syria has struck Lebanon over the past few months, killing and wounding scores of people. Many have hit Shiite areas.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades said on its Twitter account that it will give more details about the "invasion of the Iranian cultural center by your brothers" in the Sunni radical group.

The officials said troops in the area suspected one of the suicide attackers and opened fire at him, apparently forcing the two to blow themselves up prematurely, before reaching the Iranian cultural center.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam, whose Cabinet was formed on Saturday, said the blast is "a message by forces of terrorism to continue in their plan to spread death in Lebanon."

"We got the message and we will respond to it with solidarity and our commitment to peace," he said.

Wednesday's blasts came after Lebanese troops recently detained an alleged mastermind of similar attacks. Officials said he led them to several vehicles rigged with explosives.

One of the deadliest attacks occurred in November when two suicide attackers blew themselves outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing 23 people and wounded dozens. That attack was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

The group's leader was captured by Lebanese authorities in December and died in custody later in the month

Iran is a major backer of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia. Both are allies with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syrian rebels have vowed to strike against Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation for its participation in the war.