BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – FBI agents on Wednesday joined in the investigation into the latest of a spate of explosions in Lebanon, examining the site where a bomb tore threw a car and maimed a prominent TV anchorwoman.
The Lebanese government had asked for U.S. help in trying to crack the mystery surrounding the explosions in recent months, the last of which targeted political talk show host May Chidiac of a popular TV station which had taken a line opposed to Syria.
Three men arrived at the site of Sunday”s explosion near the port city of Jounieh north of Beirut to examine Chidiac”s bombed out vehicle. Wearing gloves, one sifted through debris and collected fragments while another shot pictures as an accompanying women took notes.
Journalists were kept behind a police cordon about 10 meters (yards) away and team members declined to respond to their attempts to get a comment. A black box carried by a team member was marked "explosives unit" with the Washington, D.C., address of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Armed Lebanese police, who had sealed off the area since Sunday, provided security for the team. A U.S. Embassy official declined to discuss the matter Wednesday, other than to say that "the U.S. is happy to respond positively to requests from the government of Lebanon." The official did not wish to be named, but U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said Tuesday the U.S. team was to assist the Lebanese in the investigation and provide technical expertise. Meanwhile, the chief U.N. investigator into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, met with Prime Minister Saniora.
Details of their discussions were not disclosed, but Mehlis met late Tuesday with Justice Minister Charles Rizk. "What Mr. Mehlis told me is of such importance," Rizk told reporters Wednesday, that he had asked Saniora to meet with the German investigator as soon as possible. He did not elaborate.
U.N. investigators returned to Lebanon on Friday after four days of questioning officials in Syria, whose army and intelligence units were in control of Lebanon when a massive bombing targeted Hariri”s motorcade on a Beirut street, killing Hariri and 20 others.
Mehlis is expected to issue his report in late October. The Hariri probe could possibly implicate Syria and some of its allies in Lebanon. Already four Lebanese security generals close to Syria are under arrest on suspicion of involvement.
The possibility of the probe”s findings reaching President Bashar Assad”s regime in Syria has given rise to public fears of increased violence in Lebanon, where Saniora linked the spate of bombings to the U.N. probe and predicted there could be more attacks.
Interior Minister Hassan Sabei has publicly warned of a "terrorist plot" to destabilize Lebanon and suggested the government was helpless in preventing more attacks.
The attempt to kill Chidiac, who lost an arm and a leg in the explosion, provoked wide indignation in Lebanon. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations joined Lebanese politicians in condemning the bombing, while students staged protests in Beirut.
Anti-Syrian groups have blamed Syria for Hariri”s assassination and the recent bombings. Damascus has denied involvement.
But Defense Minister Elias Murr this week became the first pro-Syrian to accuse the Syrians. He disclosed from Switzerland, where he is recovering from injuries sustained in a July 12 car bombing, that Syrian officials had threatened him months before the attack. Damascus called the allegations "lies."