BEIRUTÂ – A car bomb damaged a U.S. diplomatic vehicle in Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least three people and wounding 16, but the U.S. State Department said no Americans were hurt by the blast.
The bomb sent a column of smoke into the sky, tore masonry from buildings and destroyed at least six cars in a Christian suburb north of Beirut, as well as damaging the armored four-by-four embassy car.
The blast coincided with President George W. Bush’s visit to Saudi Arabia as part of a week-long tour of U.S. Middle East allies.
Bush is not visiting Lebanon, though Washington has been a strong backer of the Beirut government in its power struggle with the Hezbollah-led opposition backed by Syria.
Lebanese security sources said the bomb had killed three people, but the U.S. State Department said four Beirut residents had been killed. None worked for the embassy. “There were no American diplomats or American citizens in the car at the time,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
He said a Lebanese national working for the U.S. embassy and a driver were in the vehicle when it was attacked, and the driver was slightly wounded.
Rescue workers covered a corpse with plastic sheeting. Lebanese and U.S. security officials were at the scene.
The security sources said two of the dead were passengers of a car behind the U.S. vehicle. The third had been walking nearby.
Lebanon has seen more than 30 explosions in the past three years, many hitting anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. Last week a roadside bomb wounded two U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.
The army also put down an insurrection by al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants in the north last year.
Alongside its security problems, Lebanon has been suffering a political crisis that has paralyzed government.
The government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has been locked in a power struggle with the Hezbollah-led opposition for more than a year.
Hezbollah, listed by Washington as a terrorist group, last week described Bush’s visit as a “black day” for the region.
U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman is due to leave his post at the end of January and the embassy cancelled a farewell reception marking his departure.