BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – A car bomb ripped through one of Beirut’s Christian neighborhoods Friday, killing at least five people including a top police official who had been investigating terrorist bombings, officials said.
The force of the blast, which struck midmorning in Hazmieh on the Lebanese capital’s eastern edge, set a dozen vehicles ablaze and ripped a crater in the asphalt two meters (six feet) wide and a meter (3 feet) deep. Another dozen vehicles were wrecked in a nearby lot.
The country’s national police chief, Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, confirmed that the blast was a car bomb that killed Capt. Wissam Eid, a senior police intelligence official. Eid was an engineer who was handling “very important” files, including “all those having to do with the terrorist bombings” in Lebanon, Rifi said. Eid’s bodyguard also was killed, Rifi said, in addition to three or four civilians.
The Lebanese Red Cross said four people were killed and 20 wounded, the state-run National News Agency said. Lebanon’s sports minister, Ahmed Fatfat, said Eid was on his way home from a meeting at the headquarters of the U.N. commission investigating the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. The commission’s office is in a hilltop village about a 15-minute drive from the site of the explosion.
Eid had survived two previous assassination attempts, including a bomb targeting his house and a raid in the northern port city of Tripoli, Interior Minister Hassan Sabei told LBC television.
Eid was “one of the most important officers in the intelligence department,” Sabei said. “They (attackers) are trying to hit the backbone of the Lebanese state, which is security.”
As news of the killing spread to Eid’s hometown of Deir Ammar north of Tripoli, dozens of villagers burnt car tires and blocked the coastal highway linking Lebanon’s second-largest city with the Syrian border.
Television footage from the attack scene in Beirut showed a huge plume of black smoke rising from street and orange flames shooting up into the sky.
Several cars could be seen burning in a blackened area some 20 meters (yards) wide, near a highway overpass. Firefighters struggled to put out the flames. Dozens of cars were also wrecked in a nearby parking lot.
Graphic TV footage showed at least three bodies, one slumped behind the wheel of a delivery truck that was ripped apart by the force of the explosion, and two others on the ground under a highway tressel. Body parts were also scattered across the area, making a final death toll difficult to account.
Lebanon has been hit by a series of explosions, some of them political assassinations, amid a deepening 14-month political crisis. Friday’s blast came a day after a labor strike that was largely peaceful, and 10 days after a car bomb aimed at a U.S. Embassy car killed three bystanders.
In December, a car bombing killed a top general in the army.
The police intelligence department is close to the Lebanese government’s anti-Syrian majority, and has been frequently criticized by the pro-Syrian opposition.
It was the second attack against the department in less than two years. On Sept. 5, 2006, Lt. Col. Samir Shehade, deputy head of the intelligence department in Lebanon’s national police force, was wounded when his convoy was targeted by an explosion in the town of Rmeileh, just north of the southern city of Sidon. The explosion killed four people in his convoy.
Syria has been fingered in many of Lebanon’s recent bombings, the biggest of which killed former Premier Rafik Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. His assassination triggered political upheaval and international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon.
Damascus has denied any role in the bombings, which killed a number of anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. While attacks have continued, their targets have become more diverse in the past few months, with the killing of a top army general close to the opposition and the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy vehicle.