Lebanon News

Murr escapes deadly car bomb attack

BEIRUT: Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr miraculously escaped death after a huge bomb cut through his motorcade, killing one person and wounding 13, marking the first time a pro-Syrian politician has been targetted. Following minor surgery for slight burns, Murr, the son-in-law of Lebanon's staunch pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, said Lebanon's culture of "political blame" was behind what he called the "continuation of the string of assassinations targeting the country's politicians."

Talking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation from his hospital bed, Murr said: "I believe the accusations we heard during the past months encouraged terrorists to go on with their criminal acts."

He added: "National unity is the only thing that could put an end to such incidents. Exchanging accusations will give terrorist a chance to do whatever they want."

The attempt on Murr's life follows the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri last February and the murders of anti-Syrian figures Samir Kassir and George Hawi last month.

Lebanon's political opposition, which was swept to power in recent parliamentary elections, has consistently accused what it calls the "Lebanese-Syrian security apparatus" of  being behind the assassinations.

But the attempt on Murr's life adds to Lebanon's tangled web of political assassinations, since he was a staunch supporter of Syria's role in Lebanon.

The blast comes as the country remains stuck in political limbo with designate Premier Fouad Siniora still trying to form Lebanon's first government since Syrian troops pulled out from the country in April.

Siniora called the attack a "cowardly act by those who do not want stability to be restored to Lebanon."

Druze leader and anti-Syrian MP Walid Jumblatt claimed the attack was aimed at "silencing a man who could potentially give incriminating evidence to international investigators still probing the murder of Hariri."

Jumblatt added: "We still live under the former political-security regime. When you accept compromises, you suffer the consequences."

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun downplayed Jumblatt's comments. He said: "Murr had many enemies. Murr had access to information about movements and terrorist organizations in the country and he was definitely exposed to such an attack."

He added: "There are foreign hands trying to send the country back into the civil war."

During his time as interior minister, Murr announced last September that he had uncovered an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut. According to Murr, the plot also included a plan to assassinate Western diplomats and attack Lebanese security facilities.

After a spate of arrests, an alleged Al-Qaeda member died in detention from what the authorities said was a heart attack.

President Lahoud, who spent the day at the hospital with his son-in-law, said: "Enemies of Lebanon are  behind the assassination bid, and such attacks are aimed at plunging the country into civil strife."

Beirut MP Saad Hariri also visited Murr in the hospital and for the first time, met face to face with Lahoud, whom he holds responsible for his father's assassination.

Hariri said: "We have to stand united against this series of assassinations. No matter what differences we have among each other, we have to fight the criminal hand that is targeting all the Lebanese."

Initial reports said the bomb that ripped through the motorcade of Murr in the Christian suburb of Antelias consisted of about 200 kilograms of explosives, detonated by a remote control.

The blast, which also slightly wounded the wife of the Mexican ambassador, was heard several kilometers away, and damaged cars and property around the bombing area.

Sources close to the investigation told The Daily Star that investigators are considering asking for international help into the probe.

The UN Security Council called an emergency session to denounce the attack. Diplomats said the meeting, requested by France, was expected to end in the issuance of a statement condemning the bombing.

U.S. officials, who have sharply denounced the assassinations of anti-Syrian Lebanese, said they were just as firm on yesterday's attack.

"I don't think our opposition to bombings is related to people's political affiliation," said acting State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

"Any form of violence to try and serve a political end, to try and intimidate people regardless of their political persuasion, is something we would oppose and oppose under any circumstances," he said.

A spokesman from the French Foreign Ministry said: "If the Lebanese authority asks our help in the investigation we are ready."

Syria, which has been accused by politicians of involvement in this year's assassinations as well as last year's attack on anti-Damascus MP Marwan Hamade, also condemned the attack.





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