Bomb kills anti-Syria journalist in Beirut
Thu Jun 2, 2005/By Nadim Ladki/REUTERS
BEIRUT (Reuters) - A prominent anti-Syrian journalist was killed when a bomb exploded in his car in Beirut on Thursday in an attack the opposition blamed on Syria and its Lebanese security allies.
The killing of columnist Samir Qaseer four days after the start of Lebanon's staggered parliamentary elections shocked the country that is only just coming to terms with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February.
Security sources said Qaseer, from An-Nahar newspaper, died instantly when a bomb under the driver's seat of his white Alfa Romeo blew up as he switched on the ignition outside his home in the Christian Ashrafiyeh neighborhood.
The lower part of his body was torn apart. A passerby was wounded, several cars were damaged and windows in nearby buildings were shattered by the explosion.
Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabaa said the bomb weighed between 500-700 grams and was most likely detonated by remote control.
"He got into his car. It exploded when he turned the key," florist Adel Hassan told Reuters.
"I was walking into the building when the explosion happened, the glass shattered everywhere and I ran inside to check on my family," neighbor Samir Salim said. "I'm still terrified. It has not sunk in yet."
Qaseer, 45, was a columnist for Lebanon's leading daily who had for years called for an end to Syria's role in Lebanon.
His fiery writings against Syria 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.
Syria ended its 29-year military presence in its much smaller neighbor in April under international and Lebanese popular pressure.
France condemned the killing of Qaseer, who also holds French nationality, and expressed confidence in the will of the Lebanese authorities to bring his killers to justice.
"France reiterates its commitment, and that of the international community, to the stability of Lebanon, particularly during the election period which is underway," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Opposition figures were quick to point the finger at Damascus and its allies for his death.
"(Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad should not be allowed to have a single intelligence operative lingering in Lebanon," Jibran Tueni, general manager of the An-Nahar paper, who won a seat in Beirut's polls last Sunday, said at the scene.
"The Syrian regime is responsible from head to toe for this horrific terrorist crime. Lebanon's opposition should promptly close ranks anew to have every Syrian intelligence cell left behind in Lebanon ruthlessly smashed."
Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt blamed President Emile Lahoud, a close ally of Syria whose headquarters is in Baabda, just outside Beirut, and his security forces.
"So long as the head of the spear, the head of the snake is in Baabda, assassinations will continue," Jumblatt told Al Arabiya television, reiterating his call to oust Lahoud.
Lahoud condemned the killing, saying it targeted the unity of the Lebanese people, and visited the headquarters of Lebanon's journalists' union to pay his respects.
He called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss security.
The blast came four days after the start of the country's parliamentary elections, staggered over four Sundays from May 29 to June 19.
"Every time we take a step forward, we see that there are those who want to mess up the security of the country," Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters at the blast site.
"It targets the two most vital elements in the country: security and freedom," Mikati said. "We will not allow these two elements to be shaken."
Qaseer, also a founder of a small opposition group called the Democratic Left, is the most prominent figure to be killed since the killing of Hariri and a top aide plunged Lebanon into its worst political crisis since a 1975-1990 civil war.
Hariri's assassination in a huge bomb blast triggered protests by Lebanese who accused Syria of killing him. Damascus denies any role.
Five previous blasts have rocked Christian areas in and around Beirut since March, killing three people and wounding about 50. But those bombs appeared to be aimed at causing material damage rather than inflicting many casualties.
(Additional reporting by Lin Noueihed)