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Beirut devastated by deadly bomb blast

GRAPHIC WARNING: Contains images which some viewers may find disturbing.

Hussein Malla / AP

A Lebanese rescue man, carries an injured boy at the scene of an explosion in the mostly Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 19.

Stringer / Reuters

A man reacts near a burning car at the site of an explosion in Ashafriyeh, central Beirut, on Oct. 19. At least eight people were killed and 78 wounded by a bomb that exploded in central Beirut on Friday, the state news agency said.

Hussein Malla / AP

Lebanese rescue workers and civilians carry an injured girl from the scene of an explosion in the mostly Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 19.

Hussein Malla / AP

A Lebanese civilian carries an injured woman at the scene of an explosion in the mostly Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 19.

NBC News staff and wire reports -- At least eight people were killed and 78 wounded by a huge blast that exploded in a street in central Beirut on Friday, a security official told NBC News, raising fears that sectarian violence raging in neighboring Syria had spread to the Lebanese capital.

It was not immediately clear whether the blast had been caused by a car bomb, although all evidence pointed to that, the country's top military judge Hatem Madi told NBC News in Beirut. It was also not clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon's divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.

Ambulances rushed to the scene in the Ashafriyeh district, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area. Several cars were set on fire by the explosion and the front of a multi-story building was badly damaged.

Reuters

Huge blast explodes in a central Beirut street injures dozens, kills at least eight.

Witness Danny Rizkallah told NBC News the blast took place close to the headquarters of a Lebanese opposition political party with links to Syria rebels and close to the scene of the 1982 assassination of then president-elect Bachir Gemayel. The affluent, largely Christian, district is also home to the American University of Science and Technology (AUST).

He said he was having lunch nearby when the blast lifted him from his chair. “It was an incredibly powerful explosion,” he said. “I knew immediately it was a bomb because it has such a different sound to shelling. For this to happen is shocking because we really thought this sort of thing had stopped in Beirut, and for it to happen in the Christian district is also very unusual. I really don’t know who is behind this, or why. Our politics is very messed up.”

Read the full story.

Hasan Shaaban / Reuters

Firefighters extinguish fire at the scene of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut on Oct. 19.

Stringer / Reuters

Relatives comfort a wounded woman at the site of an explosion in Ashafriyeh, central Beirut, on Oct. 19.

Bilal Hussein / AP

Lebanese soldiers inspect damaged buildings at the scene of an explosion in the mostly Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 19.

A car bomb blast in Beirut, Lebanon, kills at least two and injures another 15 people. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.