Assad was behind deadly Beirut blast, says Hariri
BEIRUT // A top security official with close ties to the anti-Al Assad camp in Lebanon was killed along with at least seven others yesterday in a large explosion in the Beirut neighbourhood of Achrafiyeh.
General Wissam Al Hassan, the head of the information branch of the Internal Security Forces, Lebanon’s police force, was killed by a car bomb. About 80 others were injured.
Gen Al Hassan was close to Saad Hariri, who is leader of the Lebanese opposition and hostile to the regime in Syria.
“We accuse Bashar Al Assad of the assassination of Wissam Al Hassam, the guarantor of the security of the Lebanese,” Mr Saad Hariri told a Lebanese TV station.
“Who killed Wissam Al Hassan is as clear as day. Certainly the Lebanese people will not be silent over this heinous crime and I, Saad Hariri, promise that I will not be silent,” he said.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, also pinned responsibility on the regime in Damascus.
“I openly accuse Bashar Al Assad and his regime of killing Wissam Al Hassan,” he said.
Gen Al Hassan was recently involved in uncovering an alleged bomb plot that led to the arrest of former information minister Michel Samaha, a Lebanese politician with ties to the Syrian regime. He had been tipped to take over as chief of the internal intelligence unit at the end of this year.p
“His killing means striking the head. The [anti-Assad] officials are all exposed now and in danger of assassination. It will be easy to assassinate them now or they will have to leave the country. He was their protector,” a Lebanese official who is close to Mr Hariri.
Gen Al Hassan also led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hizbollah in the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Saad’s father, who was killed in a 2005 bombing.
An international tribunal has accused four Hizbollah members of involvement in the murder, a charge the Lebanese Shiite movement denies.
There were no immediate claim of responsibility. The bombing comes during a period of particularly high tensions in Lebanon over issues including the civil war in Syria.
The Lebanese government, led by the March 8 coalition, has tried to maintain a policy it refers to as disassociation from the crisis next door, in order protect the fragile balance in the country.
Hizbollah and some of its allies have maintained support for the regime of President Bashar Al Assad during the 19-month crisis in Syria. The opposition March 14 coalition has backed the Syrian opposition.
Syria has long played a key role in Lebanon and maintained a 29-year military presence in the country until 2005.
“They warned of the implications of the Syrian crisis and here it comes,” said Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.
“Who did it, and why, nobody knows, but what is certain is that it cannot be isolated from what is happening in Syria. The explosion shows that Lebanon cannot be safe and peaceful in the middle of this situation boiling around it.”
Syrian officials condemned the bombing.
“We condemn this terrorist explosion and all these explosions wherever they happen,” the Syrian information minister, Omran Al Zoabie, told reporters in Damascus. “Nothing justifies them.”
The bomb went off in the street where the office of the anti-Al Assad Christian Phalange Party is located. Sami Gemayel, a leader of the Lebanese Phalange party and a staunch opponent of the Al Assad regime, spoke out shortly after the attack.
“Let the state protect the citizens. We will not accept any procrastination in this matter, we cannot continue like that. We have been warning for a year. Enough,” said Mr Gemayel, whose brother was assassinated in November 2006.
Many expressed hope that the bombing would not mark the start of further such attacks. Lebanon witnessed a series of assassinations from 2005, with the last targeted killing in Beirut in 2008, according to The Daily Star newspaper.
There were reports of Sunni protesters blocking roads in the capital following news of the bombing, which took place yesterday afternoon on a street just off bustling Sassine Square in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood of east Beirut. There were also reports of protests against the bombing in Sidon, a city about 40 kilometres south of the capital.
The impact of the blast left a large crater on the road, where a mangled car and other badly damaged vehicles were parked.
The bloodied wounded could be seen staggering away from the area after the explosion went off. Buildings on the street, many of them residential, were badly damaged with windows blown out and debris scattered over a large area. Hundreds of metres away, buildings were shaken by the impact of the blast, which went off around 3pm.
Lebanon’s health minister, Ali Hussein Khalil, called on all hospitals to accept the wounded from this “terrorist bombing”.
Ambulances took the injured to several hospitals, including the nearby Rizk Hospital, where a woman in her fifties, who declined to be named, was still in shock hours after the explosion.
“I was in the kitchen. The walls shook and I felt like they were going to close in on me,” she said of her home on the street where the bombing took place.
“The cupboards came crashing down. People were screaming. Even the railings were broken. It was huge.”
With additional reporting by Rima Abushakra in Beirut, Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence-France Presse
Updated: October 19, 2012 04:00 AM