BEIRUT,(Reuters) – Hundreds of mourners, including key opposition leaders, flocked to the funeral of a slain anti-Syrian Lebanese journalist on Saturday amid intensifying calls for an international inquiry into his assassination.
Waving Lebanese flags, many mourners wept as they gathered around the casket carrying Samir Kassir, who was killed when a bomb exploded in his car on Thursday.
The death of the 45-year-columnist who wrote for the leading An-Nahar newspaper has shocked a country still coming to terms with the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
"Samir Kassir, the martyr of the independence intifada," read a huge poster hanging from An-Nahar”s building, referring to the mass protests that forced Syria to bow to world pressure and end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April.
The United States asked the U.N. Security Council on Friday to expand its probe into Hariri”s killing to include Kassir.
Lebanese opposition factions blamed Syria and its allies in Lebanon for both murders, a charge Damascus strongly rejects.
Kassir”s assassination in a Christian district of Beirut came four days after the start of Lebanon”s staggered parliamentary polls.
Anti-Syrian opposition politicians including Hariri”s son Saad — a Sunni Muslim leader — and Druze Muslim chief Walid Jumblatt attended the funeral at a central Beirut church.
"Samir Kassir will remain among us and will never die. He was a rare symbol of courage, knowledge, and intelligence," Nayla Tueini, a fellow journalist and daughter of An-Nahar”s general manager Jibran, said. "His words have become the beacon of light that will never go out."
A Lebanese security source said on Friday that the United States” FBI was helping with the probe into Kassir”s killing. An FBI team has visited the bomb site to collect evidence.
A French team was also set to help, the source said. Kassir also held French nationality.
His fiery writings against Damascus and the Lebanese "police state" landed him in trouble in 2001 when the Syrian-backed security services seized his passport and threatened him with arrest. He was said to have received several death threats.
"The killer is well-known," Elias Atallah, leader of the Democratic Left movement Kassir helped found, told mourners.
"The killer is the one trying to take away every nice thing, our freedom, and all attempts for our renaissance."