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Beirut bombing kills anti-Assad official, bringing Syrian war to Lebanon

Gen. Wissam al-Hassan's assassination in today's bombing is the most significant political killing in Lebanon since that of the former prime minister in 2005.

By Correspondent / October 19, 2012

Lebanese soldiers inspect damaged buildings at the scene of an explosion in the mostly Christian neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 19.

Bilal Hussein/AP

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Beirut, Lebanon

Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese security chief and staunch opponent of the Syrian regime, was reported killed today in a powerful car bomb explosion.

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The assassination of Hassan, the head of the Information Branch, the intelligence wing, of the Internal Security Forces, is probably the most significant political killing in Lebanon since 2005, despite his relatively low public profile. It will create significant reverberations in Lebanon, a country torn down the middle over the conflict in neighboring Syria and fearful of Syria’s violence, which has split the country along sectarian lines, spilling over the border. Angry Sunni supporters of Hassan took to the streets in the evening, burning tires at intersections. In the flashpoint city of Tripoli in north Lebanon, gunbattles broke out between factions of Sunnis and Alawites, a Shiite offshoot.

Hassan was politically allied to Saad Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister who heads the mainly Sunni Future Movement. He played a key role in the arrest in August of Michel Samaha, a former minister and close ally of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. Mr. Samaha was charged with plotting a series of bombings around Lebanon at the behest of the Syrian authorities. The Syrian regime rejected the charges.

The explosive-packed vehicle, which killed at least seven other people, was parked in a narrow street in the Ashrafiyah district, around 100 yards from the bustling Sassine Square intersection, a hub of cafes, banks, and boutique shops. The bomb exploded in mid-afternoon, sending a rumble of thunder across the eastern half of the city. Several cars were destroyed and caught fire, as did at least one adjacent building. Surrounding buildings had balconies blasted off walls and windows in surrounding blocks of flats and offices were shattered, the glass shards crunching under the feet of rescue workers and wide-eyed onlookers.

“It was horrendous. The bomb exploded just as children were walking home from the school. It was very frightening,” says Magda Karam, a housewife who lives nearby.

The car that presumably carried the bomb was mangled beyond immediate identification and apparently hurled some distance down the narrow street by the blast. Voice of Lebanon radio reported that human remains had been discovered at the bomb scene and that the death toll could climb.

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