Blast Wounds Outgoing Lebanese Deputy PM
BEIRUT, Lebanon – A car bomb hit the motorcade of Lebanon's outgoing deputy prime minister Tuesday, wounding him and killing at least one person in the first of a spate of recent attacks to target a pro-Syrian politician.
The assassination attempt on Elias Murr (search) deepened fears over Lebanon's security since Syria pulled out its military this spring. Since then, Syria's longtime hold on the country has crumbled, and its opponents have been scrambling for power while its former allies struggle to hold on to authority.
Many have blamed Damascus and its allies for a series of bombings over the past nine months that have targeted anti-Syrian figures. But Tuesday's blast raised the prospect that many hands could be at play in the violence plaguing this fractious country.
President Emile Lahoud (search), Syria's staunchest ally in Lebanon, has reportedly been pressing for Murr — his son-in-law — to be given a position in the new government that anti-Syrian politicians who now control parliament are trying to put together.
Murr has also been in conflict with Muslim militants. In September, when he was interior minister, Murr announced he uncovered an Al Qaeda-linked plot to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, assassinate Western diplomats and attack Lebanese security facilities.
Ten people were arrested, including Ismail Mohammed al-Khatib (search), who authorities claimed was the leader of an Al Qaeda network in Lebanon. Al-Khatib died in police custody — of a heart attack, according to officials — but his followers blame authorities for his death. The death prompted sharp criticism of Murr.
The midmorning blast left one vehicle a charred and twisted wreck and damaged several others in the motorcade of Murr, who is also the outgoing defense minister.
Murr was slightly injured and later released an audiotape from the hospital saying his was all right. At least 12 other people, including the Mexican ambassador's wife, were also injured, officials said.
A vehicle packed with explosives went off as Murr's motorcade passed in the northern district of Naqash on a road the politician routinely takes from his residence in Rabiya to Beirut. The blast was near an upscale area with numerous villas, foreign embassies and diplomatic residences.
The explosion knocked out a 6-foot-wide crater in the pavement and flung the booby-trapped vehicle over the stone wall of an adjacent villa. Murr's smashed car came to rest several yards from the crater.
Murr, who had been driving, staggered out of his damaged vehicle, bloodied and leaning on passers-by who rushed to help, witnesses told Lebanese television.
In another car, a member of his escort, his abdomen and face bloodied, was screaming in agony. The wounded man, conscious, wept as he was pulled out of the front passenger seat through the vehicle's roof.
Speaking from his hospital bed later, Murr said: "Thank God, it's OK ... The country is going through a difficult period and we all have to bear that."
Murr's father, longtime politician Michel Murr (search), said his son had suffered wounds in the face and burns on his legs and arms and was in the operating room.
"I want to assure you that his life is not in danger," he told reporters at the hospital, where Lahoud and other politicians went to check on his condition.
Syria denounced the assassination attempt against Murr.
"This terrorist act is a new circle in the series of explosions and assassinations that aim at destabilizing Lebanon and weakening its national unity," a statement carried by Syria's official news agency SANA said.
Saad Hariri (search), leader of the anti-Syrian coalition that won a majority in parliament in last month's elections, said the spate of attacks was aimed at creating chaos in the country.
Hariri and his allies won the election after his father, former premier Rafik Hariri (search), was killed in a Feb. 14 blast that hit his motorcade in downtown Beirut. His assassination triggered a groundswell of anti-Syrian protests at home and international pressure that eventually ended three decades of Syrian domination of Lebanon.
"This is part of the series [of assassinations] directed against all of Lebanon," Hariri said. "We must fight them ... It is a secret hand that wants to undermine stability in Lebanon by killing journalists and politicians to wreak havoc in the country. We will not let them play with the country," Hariri told journalists.
Murr is the fifth prominent figure to be targeted for assassination over the past year — but the first pro-Syrian to be hit.
In October, former economy minister Marwan Hamadeh (search) survived a car bomb explosion with serious injuries and his bodyguard was killed.
After Syria withdrew the last of its thousands of troops from Lebanon in April, anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir (search) and former Communist Party leader George Hawi (search) were killed in separate bombings of their cars in June.