Top Security Official Among the Dead in Beirut Blast
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A large bomb exploded in the heart of Beirut’s Christian section on Friday, killing a top Lebanese security official and at least seven others, wounding dozens and spreading panic in a city where memories of sectarian violence from Lebanon’s long civil war have been resurrected by the conflict in neighboring Syria.
The security official, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, was apparently the intended target of the explosion, which ripped into buildings, upended cars and shattered windows for blocks in the most serious bombing to hit Beirut in at least four years. He was declared dead a few hours after the blast in an announcement on Lebanese television.
The identities of the other victims were not immediately clear, and there was no word on who was behind the blast, which the authorities said had been caused either by a car bomb or a bomb hidden in the street or under a vehicle parked in the affluent Sassine area, about two blocks from a gleaming shopping center. It exploded midafternoon just as the school day was ending.
Suspicion quickly fell on groups aligned with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the embattled leader who has long been an influential political force in Lebanon and is close with Hezbollah, the militant Shiite organization that is a powerful faction in Lebanon’s own complex web of politics. The offices of two Lebanese political groups that oppose Mr. Assad, the Christian Phalange Party and the March 14 alliance, are in the same area as the blast site.
“It is clear that the Syrian regime is responsible for such an explosion,” said Nadim Gemayel, a member of Parliament and senior member of the Phalange Party, whose father, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated in an explosion at party headquarters in 1982 just a few weeks after he had been elected president. “It is such a big explosion that only the Syrian regime could have planned it.”
A number of politicians reacted to the news by pleading that Lebanon not get dragged into tit-for-tat killings or a return to the sectarian conflict that convulsed this Mediterranean seaside city during the 1975-1991 civil war.
“We are all Lebanese,” said Mouen al-Mourabi, a member of Parliament who has accused Hezbollah of sending fighters into Syria to help Mr. Assad’s forces crush the 19-month-old uprising against him. Mr. Mourabi stopped short of accusing Hezbollah of complicity in the bombing, but said many Lebanese have long feared the Syrian conflict would spread to Lebanon. “There’s always a danger,” he said. “They’re trying to drag Lebanon toward this.”
Al-Hassan had led the investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination seven years ago. That investigation implicated Hezbollah and Syria and led to the arrest of former minister Michael Samaha.