A large bomb exploded in the heart of Beiruts 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 Lebanons 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.
General Hassan,the intelligence chief of Lebanons Internal Security Forces,played a leading role a few months ago in the arrest of a former information minister,Michel Samaha,who had close ties with the Syrian leadership and was accused of plotting a campaign of bombings and assassinations in Lebanon.
Samahas arrest was widely viewed as evidence of a Syrian plot to spread sectarian mayhem in Lebanon.
The bombing came a day after General Hassan had returned from a trip to Germany and France. He had moved his family to Paris in the aftermath of Samahas arrest because he had received numerous threats.
The identities of the other victims in the bombing 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. It exploded midafternoon just as the school day was ending.
Suspicion quickly fell on groups aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,the embattled leader who has long been an influential political force in Lebanon and is close with Hezbollah,the militant Shiite organisation that is a powerful faction in Lebanons own complex web of politics.
The offices of two Lebanese political groups that oppose 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. It is such a big explosion that only the Syrian regime could have planned it.
A number of politicians pleaded that Lebanon not get dragged into tit-for-tat killings.
Mouen al-Mourabi,a member of Parliament,stopped short of accusing Hezbollah of complicity in the bombing,but said many Lebanese have long feared the Syrian conflict would spread to Lebanon. Theres always a danger, he said. Theyre trying to drag Lebanon toward this.