The Syrian conflict has possibly made itself felt in Beirut when a bomb rocked a calm neighborhood in heart of the city, killing the top Lebanese intelligence official and eight others, injuring more than 90, and bringing fears in Lebanon that the nation could be dragged back to its violence past because of Syria.
The bomb killed Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, the chief of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch, who was aligned with a political movement opposing Syria’s government. Al-Hassan was head of the branch investigating Lebanese politician Michel Samaha, who is accused of planning attacks in Lebanon with two Syrian officials.
Andrew Tabler, a expert on Syria and Lebanon at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told CNN the bombing is “a message from Damascus to stay away from Michel Samaha and Syrian allies.”
Al-Hassan’s unit has recordings of Samaha planning attacks and Samaha was accused by a military court of attempting to form an armed group to spread sectarian violence through plotting political and religious assassinations. Two Syrian security officers were also charged.
On the streets of Syrian, the citizenry believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is trying to promote instability in Lebanon and elsewhere to turn attention away from the civil war in Syria.
The huge blast in the center of the Christian center of Lebanon created a crater of rubble near Sassine Square in East Beirut’s Ashrafiyeh district, an area that residents say isn’t used to violence, even during the 15-year-long civil war that ended in 1990 and the assassinations and sectarian tensions among Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and others that has plagued Lebanon since then.
After the blast, distraught residents carried victims to ambulances. The blast mangled cars and charred buildings, and even shook the windows in CNN’s offices, about a 10-minute drive from the scene.
Enraged citizens in Beirut blocked roads and fired guns to protest the killing, Lebanese news reports said.
Shortly after the bombing, Syria condemned the attack as a cowardly act.
“Such terrorist acts are condemned and unjustifiable wherever they happen,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said.