Friday, October 19, 2012

Update3: Beirut Car Bomb Kills Lebanon's Top Spy: Violence Spreads

Beirut's Christian section. Photo: Bilal Hussein/Associated Press
Update3: Raw video of blast added - see it below.

Oct. 19, 2012 - A massive vehicle bomb exploded in Beirut, the capitol city of Lebanon, earlier today. It killed at least ten people and injuring many dozens more. Lebanese officials are calling the bombing a "terrorist attack." The bombing today is the first attack of this kind since 2008, and was centered in district of Ashrafiyeh.

Some Middle East experts say that the assassination bombing in Beirut could signal the spread of the Syrian conflict over international borders. Just as bad, it could also spark another civil war in Lebanon. Memories of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war is still the stuff of nightmares in Lebanon and the region.

One of those killed is Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, Lebanon's Chief of the Intelligence Bureau of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).  It is believed that the bomb was meant for Gen. al-Hassan. He "was the official behind uncovering a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician," reports the Associated Press.

Al-Jazeera says that Hassan was "a key figure in supporting the armed opposition in Syria." That report also notes that a former Lebanese interior minister says it is too early to tell who is responsible for the bombing today.
Update: Large and violent protests are already taking place in the wake of today's bombing. Angered by the death of el-Hassan, protesters "cut the highway between Beddawi to Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, following the announcement of the death of chief of the Intelligence Bureau of the Internal Security Forces, General Wissam el-Hassan," reports Al Bawaba News. "Other roads in the same area were also blocked, according to the same source" and gunfire was reported in a number of other parts of Lebanon. 
An excellent report at Naharnet says that the ISF "played a central role in the arrest in August of former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, who has close links to Damascus and was charged with planning attacks in Lebanon and transporting explosives in collaboration with Syrian security chief Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk."

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi has condemned the bombing and called it "terrorist" and "cowardly."  Not everyone is buying that, however. Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of setting up the assassination Gen. al-Hasan, according to the Daily Star.

Martin Chulov covers the Middle East for The Guardian (UK) and is posting updates on Twitter today. He tweeted this earlier: "Wissam al-Hassan had led case against former Inf Minister Michel Samaha, accused of bringing bombs to #Lebanon on Syrian orders."  Another tweet by Chulov said, "Death of Wissam al-Hassan the most dangerous event in #Lebanon since assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005."

Photo: Yorgo El-Bittar @YorgoElBittar
The bomb exploded near the Christian Phalange Party's offices. They are known for their outspoken  anti-Syria statements. "Another anti-Syrian bloc, the March 14 alliance" says the AP report, has offices nearby. "Sejaan Azzi, a leading member of the Phalange, said he believes his party is being targeted for its views on Syria."

The death toll seems likely to rise as rescue teams sift through the wreckage left by the huge explosion. The blast was so powerful that it ripped balconies off of large apartment buildings.

"Lebanese security officials and Red Cross workers said eight people were killed and 60 wounded, 20 of them critically," reports AP. "Other news reports, citing the health ministry, said three people had been killed and 96 wounded. The state-run National News Agency put the number of wounded at 78."