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Hariri Assassinated by Car Bomb Blast in Downtown Beirut February 15, 2005/

Posted on 02/16/05    14:00 pm

Ex-Premier Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car-bomb blast that shredded his motorcade in downtown Beirut as he was returning home from a parliament meeting at 12:55 p.m. Monday. He was 60.

Hariri was planning to contest Lebanon's spring parliamentary elections in alliance with opposition groups demanding a termination of Syria's high-handed tutelage over Lebanon.


Hariri's murder, which explosive experts said was the work of an intelligence service, came hardly 24 hours after the world community was reported to have warned the Assad regime that Syria would be held responsible if Hariri or Walid Jumblat are assassinated.


Sappers estimated the bombing charge at 300 kilograms, saying Hariri's body was torn to pieces, making identification almost impossible. It was not clear if explosives were placed in a vehicle or on the side of the street


Syria's official news agency SANA said President Assad has deplored Hariri's assassination, calling it a "horrific crime" and pledging to stand by Lebanon's side in these troubled times. Foreign Minister Farouk Al Sharaa said Hariri's assassination was designed to destabilize Lebanon.


At any rate, Hariri's elimination spells out the end of his 26-strong bloc in the legislature and consequently makes it certain that Syria's Lebanese loyalists would hold a comfortable majority in the 128-seat new parliament, news observers say.


Hariri's body was rushed from the blast scene near Beirut's Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel to the morgue of the American University Hospital. At least nine other people were killed in the remote-controlled thunderous blast, including six of his bodyguards, his Future-TV station said.


An AUH bulletin said at least 100 persons were injured and hospitalized.


Lebanon's state-run news agency said former cabinet ministers Bassel Fleihan and Samir Al Jisir were with Hariri in his bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz limousine at the time of the explosion. But it stopped short of pronouncing them dead. Jisr's press office said he was not hurt but Fleihan was reported in an 'almost hopeless' condition at AUH. Hariri's Future-TV reported that the AUH was preparing to transfer him abroad.


The death toll is expected to rise as several charred motorists were trapped in their smoldering cars at the scene with civil defense rescuers trying to break the doors and extract the bodies.


The assassination took place in front of the luxurious beach of the bomb-scarred St. Georges Hotel which faces the headquarters of the HSBC bank and the Phoenicia Hotel. Naharnet called HSBC by telephone but a switchboard operator said: 'Please we are in the midst of a disaster. Call later.'


The explosion blew a 10-meter-wide crater in the street and set at least 20 cars on fire. The force of the blast tore off scores of glass fronts of shops and posh boutiques along Beirut's Mediterranean coast. The window glass of the nearby Grand Serail, the seat of Lebanon's prime minister that Hariri rebuilt from the ashes of the civil war littered surrounding streets.


The car bomb that killed Hariri was the second most powerful since the 1975-1990 civil war, when car bombing was invented as an assassination method. The heavier remote controlled bombing was the 1989 assassination of President Rene Mouawad only 17 days after he was sworn in. Thirty-one aides perished in that attack.

Beirut, Updated 15 Feb 05, 12:26