In the Lebanese capital of Beirut a powerful car bomb tore through a business district Friday killing a prominent pro-Western politician and at least five other people in an assassination certain to hike sectarian tensions already soaring because of the civil war in nearby Syria.
The blast which wounded more than 70 others set cars ablaze, shredded trees and shattered windows in a main street of the posh downtown Beirut area consisting of five-star hotels, luxury high-rises and high-end boutiques. It send black smoke above the nearby government headquarters and the seafront.
The bomb targeted the car of Mohammed Chatah, a former finance minister and a senior aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, security officials said. Chatah, his driver and four others were killed. Hariri, a Sunni politician, heads the main Western-backed coalition in Lebanon, which is engaged in bitter feuding with the militant Shiite Hezbollah group which is a top ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The bombing brings back memories of a string of assassinations of members of the anti-Syrian Hariri camp between 2004 and 2008. The biggest of those was a massive suicide bombing in 2005 in downtown Beirut, not far from the site of Friday’s blast, that killed Hariri’s father, Rafik, also a former prime minister. Friday’s blast comes less than three weeks before the trial for those suspected in Rafik Hariri’s assassination was set to begin. Five Hezbollah members have been indicted for alleged involvement in the killing and Hezbollah rejects the accusations and refuses to hand over the suspects.
Saad Hariri indirectly blamed Hezbollah for Chatah’s assassination Friday. In a statement, he accused “the ones who run away from international justice and refuse to appear before the international tribunal.” The last assassination in Lebanon was on October 19, 2012 when a car bomb assassinated Lebanon’s top intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan. Al-Hassan was a member of Hariri’s security circle and was a powerful opponent of Syria’s influence in Lebanon and many here blamed his killing on Syria.
The Friday morning blast was heard across the city, shattering the calm of the downtown commercial district.
Is it actually yet just another sign of the complete shattering of calm across the entire Mideast?