An embittered Education Ministry clerk opened fire Wednesday with an assault rifle and two pistols at colleagues at a ministry office, killing eight and wounding five before he was apprehended by police.
The attack raised fears of sectarian violence because the clerk, Ahmed Mansour, is Muslim and most of the dead were Christians. But picials said a financial dispute was behind the shootings.
Police arrested Mansour after he ran out of ammunition, and he was charged by Beirut's chief investigating magistrate with murder.
Mansour, 48, had worked for the ministry for 23 years. Colleagues said he arrived about midmorning at the teacher's compensation fund, a department of the Education Ministry, carrying two pistols and a Kalashnikov assault rifle in a bag.
He first opened fire in the air, then took aim at co-workers, shooting at them as he went from office to office, authorities said. Some people ran to a balcony to try escape, but Mansour fired through the windows, killing two people, whose bodies fell onto the edge of the railing.
After Mansour exhausted his ammunition, he dropped his weapons, walked down the stairs and lit a cigarette, according to witnesses. Police arrived at the scene and arrested him.
Among the dead was Rachel Saade, the manager of the teacher's compensation fund, which deals with pay raises, bonuses, end of service payment and loans to teachers.
Education Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad said Mansour was angry that he had been asked to repay a loan of $12,000 made by the compensation fund.
"They asked him to sell his car. He sold it, got upset and consequently came and committed his crime," the minister said.
In Mansour's village of Loubieh, south Lebanon, his wife, Mona Khalil, broke down on hearing the news.
"This is a catastrophe ... I can't believe Ahmed would do something like this," she said. She said Mansour, the father of four children, is a diabetic who took tranquilizers.
In Beirut, about 200 policemen and troops ringed the compensation fund building, a few hundred yards from the Education Ministry compound. Relatives wept as bodies were removed from the scene.
The Beirut police chief, education and justice ministers, and a senior official of the teachers' union -- all Muslims -- took pains to emphasize the attack was not related to the Christian-Muslim tensions that shook Lebanon during the 1975-90 civil war.
"It is tragic. It was personal and isolated. We hope that no one makes of this incident more than its isolated nature," said Beirut Police Chief Maj. Gen. Walid Koleilat.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi also said it was a coincidence that most of the victims were Christians. But George Saade, the Christian head of the teachers' union and Rachel Saade's father-in-law, had his doubts.
"He killed the Christian employees. How can we live in this country?" he yelled outside the fund building.