21 Oct 2012

Massive car bomb kills Lebanese intelligence chief

4:36 am on 21 October 2012

A massive car bomb explosion in the centre of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, has killed the country's head of domestic intelligence, Wissam al-Hassan, along with seven other people.

Detonated during rush hour on Friday, the bomb injured about 80 others, destroyed several cars and badly damaged the faades of nearby building.

It went off in in the Christian district of Ashrafiya, in a street where the office of the Christian Phalange Party is located.

General Hassan was close to opposition leader Saad Hariri, a leading critic of the government in neighbouring Syria. Mr Hariri has already blamed Syria for the bombing, although the Syrian government has condemned it.

Hizbollah - a close ally of the Syrian government - also condemned the bombing.

Tension between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Christians in Lebanon has been rising as a result of the Syrian conflict, the BBC reports, fuelled by fears that the fighting will spread across the border.

Lebanon's religious communities are divided between those who support the Syrian government - including many Shias - and those, mostly Sunni, who back the rebels.

In 2005 General Hassan led an investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the killing of Mr Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri; and he recently organised the arrest of a former minister accused of planning a Syrian-sponsored bombing campaign.

His death has led to angry protests across Lebanon and accusations that Syria was to blame. Amid international condemnation of the bombing United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has urged all politicians in the country to maintain their commitment to Lebanese unity.