Lebanon charges five men over Tripoli mosque bombings

Sunni Muslims attend Friday prayers at the Taqwa mosque, one of two mosques that were hit by explosions last Friday in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli August 30, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon on Friday charged five men, including a Sunni Muslim cleric close to the Syrian government, over bomb attacks on two mosques in the northern city of Tripoli last week that killed at least 42 people, judicial sources said.

They said a military court accused Sheikh Ahmad Gharib and Mostafa Houri of forming an armed group to attack government institutions, organizing a terrorist cell and preparing the bombs against the two Sunni mosques in Tripoli.

Two other men, including a Syrian military officer, were charged in absentia with placing the bombs at the mosques. Sheikh Hesham Minkara, another pro-Syrian government Sunni cleric, was being held on charges of withholding information from investigators.

The bombings, which also wounded hundreds, escalated sectarian strife that has spilled over from the civil war in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad, from the minority Alawite sect, is facing a largely Sunni-led insurgency against his rule.

Syria had a military presence in Lebanon for 29 years before pulling out in 2005, during which it made allies from different Lebanese sects. But with sectarian tensions growing, only a few Lebanese Sunnis now remain supportive of Damascus.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)