Suspicion falls on Syrians as Beirut bomb kills army chief
A TOP security official was killed when a car bomb exploded in the centre of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, yesterday, in the most serious attack in four years.
• Dozens injured in huge explosion in Beirut
• Target of attack unclear
• Lebanese politician condemns bombing
Dozens of people were wounded in the bombing, which targeted the convoy of Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan.
Many Lebanese quickly raised the possibility the violence was connected to the civil war in neighbouring Syria, which has sent destabilising ripples through Lebanon for the past 19 months.
Brig-Gen Hassan was in charge of an investigation that exposed a bomb plot over the summer, leading to the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician and charges against a top Syrian regime figure.
“Whenever there is a problem in Syria they want to bring it to us,” said Karin Sabaha Gemayel, a secretary at a law firm a block from the bombing site. “But you always hope it will not happen to us. Not again.”
The blast ripped through a narrow street at mid-afternoon in Beirut’s mainly Christian Achrafieh district, which is packed with cafés and shops. Doors and windows were shattered and several cars appeared to have been catapulted through the air.
Bloodied residents fled their homes, while others tried to help the seriously wounded. One little girl, apparently unconscious and bleeding from her head, was carried to an ambulance in the arms of rescue workers, her white trainers stained with blood.
“I was standing nearby in Sassine Square and I heard a big explosion and I ran straight to it,” resident Elie Khalil said. He said he saw at least 15 bloodied people in a nearby car park before medics arrived and took them to a hospital.
Lebanese security officials said eight people were killed and 60 wounded, 20 of them critically. The state-run National News Agency put the number of wounded at 78. Health minister Ali Hussein Khalil called on all hospitals to accept the wounded from this “terrorist bombing”.
Tensions have been soaring in Lebanon over the conflict next door, and clashes have erupted between supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and backers of the rebellion against his regime.
Syria and Lebanon share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, often causing events on one side of the border to echo on the other. Lebanon’s Sunnis have tended to back Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanon’s powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement is a key ally of Mr Assad.
Lebanon was hit by a wave of bombings and other attacks that began in 2005 with a massive suicide blast that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and more than 20 other people in Beirut. In the following years, a string of anti-Syrian figures were assassinated, several in car bombings. Many blamed Damascus for the killings, though Syria denied responsibility.
Brig-Gen Hassan had headed an investigation that led to the arrest in August of former information minister Michel Samaha, one of Syria’s most loyal allies in Lebanon who has long acted as an unofficial media adviser to Mr Assad. According to a senior Lebanese police official, Samaha confessed to having transported explosives in his car from Syria to Lebanon with the purpose of killing Lebanese targets at the behest of Syria.
A military court has since indicted Samaha and Syrian Brigadier-General Ali Mamlouk of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks inside Lebanon. Mamlouk, who was made head of Syria’s National Security Bureau by Mr Assad, was indicted in absentia.
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