Beirut car bomb kills police intelligence officer

BEIRUT – A car bomb killed a police intelligence officer involved in the investigation of assassinations in Lebanon, in an attack in a Christian suburb of Beirut on Friday.

Police chief Brigadier-General Ashraf Rifi named the officer targeted in the blast while on his way to work as Captain Wisam Eid. A bodyguard and two other people were also killed.

Thirty-eight people were wounded.

Eid, 31, worked for an intelligence unit widely viewed as close to anti-Syrian ruling coalition leader Saad al-Hariri and which was frequently criticized by the Syrian-backed opposition.

“Eid had a role in all the files linked to terrorist bombings,” Rifi told reporters at the scene.

The assassination was the latest in a wave of bombings and political killings in Lebanon over the past three years. The turmoil caused by the killings has fuelled the country’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The police intelligence unit has been closely involved in the U.N.-led investigation into the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and in a crackdown on al Qaeda-inspired militants.

Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabaa said Eid, who was a communications engineer, had been targeted before. He took up his post after a roadside bomb wounded his predecessor, Samir Shehadeh, in 2006.

Security sources said Eid was responsible for tracking mobile telephone communications made by attackers in previous assassinations and of Islamist militant cells.

The car packed with at least 50 kg (110 pounds) of explosives was parked on the side of a road near an overpass in the suburb of Hazmiyeh. It was detonated by remote control as Eid’s car drove by, security sources said.

Firefighters sprayed water over blazing cars and smoking debris. A charred corpse was visible in one car. Body parts were strewn on the road. Dozens of vehicles were damaged in the blast, which ripped a large crater in the road.

DAY OF MOURNING

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora declared Saturday a national day of mourning for Eid and the other victims.

The attack occurred 10 days after a car bomb damaged a U.S. diplomatic car in Beirut, killing three people and wounding 16.

Last month a car bomb killed the army’s chief of operations, Francois Haj, in east Beirut.

The majority coalition accuses Syria of being behind Hariri’s assassination and many of the more than 30 bombings that have hit Lebanon in the past three years, often directed against anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.

Damascus, which denies any involvement, condemned the latest attack, saying it “targets Lebanon’s security and stability”.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino condemned it as “an attack by those who seek to undermine Lebanon’s institutions.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Colombia, said “we call again for all involved, and that means Lebanon’s neighbors in particular, to support a process in Lebanon by which the people of Lebanon can elect a president … freely and without intimidation…”

France denounced “these repeated murderous attempts at destabilizing Lebanon”.

Bombers have also struck at U.N. peacekeepers in the south, while a revolt by al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants in the north last year further undermined Lebanon’s stability.

Lebanon is in the thick of a long-running political conflict pitting the Western-backed ruling coalition against the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The dispute has paralyzed government for more than a year and blocked the election of a new president, leaving Lebanon with no head of state for the first time since the civil war.

Rival factions have agreed that army commander General Michel Suleiman should be the next president, but remain at odds over how to share power in a future national unity government.

Mediation by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has failed to bridge the gulf. He is due to report on his efforts to Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

Various Lebanese factions condemned the attack, which Hariri said “came as a clear message to all Arabs that the fate of the country will always be ruled by crime and terrorism despite all the initiatives and efforts to find solutions”.

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