A huge car bomb in Beirut on Friday killed 8 people, amongst them the apparent target, Wissam al-Hassan the head of police intelligence:
BEIRUT — At least eight people were killed and 78 injured in a massive blast in east Beirut caused by a car bomb.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw bloodied people being helped into ambulances and heavy damage to what appeared to be residential buildings in the mostly Christian Achrafieh neighborhood.
A police official told reporters that Wissam al-Hassan the head of police intelligence was the target of the blast.
Although the motive behind the attack was still unknown, the country’s fractious political leaders immediately began laying blame and tying the bombing to the crisis in Syria.
Laying the blame for the bombing at the feet of the Syrians is certainly not far-fetched, as the Jerusalem Post reports:
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Saturday he suspected the assassination of a senior Lebanese intelligence chief was linked to his role in uncovering Syrian involvement in an earlier bomb plot.
Mikati, speaking at a news conference at the presidential palace, stopped short of blaming Assad directly.
But he said he suspected the bombing was related to the indictment in August of former minister Michel Samaha, a supporter of Assad, over a plot allegedly aimed at stoking violence in Lebanon.
“A prime minister does not anticipate investigations, but quite honestly … I cannot separate in any way the crime that took place yesterday and the discovery of the conspiracy against Lebanon in August,” he said.
The slain Hassan had helped to uncover the bomb plot, which fueled sectarian enmity in a country where the balance between religious groups is fragile. He also led an investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.
The New York Times elaborates further:
Within hours of the attack, the Lebanese authorities announced that the dead included the intelligence chief of the country’s internal security service, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, instantly spurring accusations that the Syrian government had assassinated him for recently uncovering what the authorities said was a Syrian plot to provoke unrest in Lebanon.
“They wanted to get him, and they got him,” said Paul Salem, a regional analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center.
The attack struck a heavy blow to a security service that had asserted Lebanon’s fragile sovereignty by claiming to catch Syria red-handed in a plan to destabilize its neighbor, which Syria has long dominated. It threatened to inflame sectarian tensions by eliminating General Hassan, a Sunni Muslim known for his close ties to fellow Sunni politicians who support the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. General Hassan was viewed by Syrian opposition activists as an ally and protector.
Imad Salamey, a political science professor at Lebanese American University, blamed Mr. Assad’s government and said that the attack seemed intended to show that Syria has the ability to destabilize Lebanon and threaten to embroil the region in chaos.
The attack harked back to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a longtime foe of Mr. Assad’s, in a car bombing in 2005. Syria was widely blamed, and protests in the aftermath of that killing forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, a major blow to its regional influence. But a series of bombings targeting politicians, journalists and security officials followed, shaking Lebanon and sending the message that Syria’s power still reached deep into its neighbor.
General Hassan came to prominence as a security chief for the assassinated former prime minister, Mr. Hariri. Early on, he was a suspect in that killing, but later helped build a circumstantial case, based on phone records, that a team from Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite organization aligned with Syria, had coordinated the Hariri attack and was at the scene of the murder. Hezbollah, which has since become an important member of Lebanon’s government, claims the records were fabricated.
Another security official, Wissam al-Eid, who helped compile the phone records, was killed in a car bombing in 2008, part of a series of assassinations of political figures, journalists and investigators.
More recently, in August, General Hassan shocked Lebanon by arresting a prominent pro-Syrian politician, Michel Samaha, on charges of importing explosives in a bid to set off bombs and wreak sectarian havoc as part of a Syrian-led plot. It was a surprising move in a country where state institutions have rarely had the power to take on political figures, especially those backed by foreign powers or Lebanese militias.
In a brief interview on Friday, the chief of the Internal Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said, “Wissam al-Hassan was targeted because of Samaha’s case.”
The Internal Security Forces have often been seen as allied with Sunni anti-Syrian factions. But Mr. Salem of Carnegie said that General Hassan did not pursue only his friends’ political enemies; he was also credited with disrupting numerous networks of Israeli spies.
Mr. Salem said that General Hassan and his investigators were “one of the bright spots that saw the Syrian influence apparently ebb,” demonstrating that “the Lebanese state was beginning to develop capacities, they could arrest Samaha, they were doing things that a sovereign state does.”
While some anti-Syrian politicians suggested that the bombing was intended to distract from allegations that Hezbollah is fighting on the Syrian government’s side, they stopped short of accusing the party of involvement in the bombing. Several analysts said Hezbollah was unlikely to carry out such an attack, which would threaten its political standing inside Lebanon.
With all that is going on in the Middle East, anyone who still thinks that the Israel-Palestinians dispute is the core of all the region’s troubles needs another think coming.