BEIRUT (CBS NEWS) -- A strong car bomb
tore through a business district in the center of the Lebanese capital Friday,
setting cars ablaze and killing a prominent pro-Western politician and four
The bomb targeted Mohamad Chatah, a former
finance minister and a senior aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in his
car as he drove through central Beirut,
Lebanon's National News Agency said, confirming what security sources had told
numerous foreign news agencies. Chatah was also a former ambassador to the U.S.
The National News Agency said Chatah's
driver was also killed, along with three other people. The Health Ministry said
more than 70 others were wounded.
Lebanon has seen a wave of bombings over the
past months as tensions rise over Syria's civil war.
Hariri heads the main, Western-backed
coalition in Lebanon, which is engaged in bitter feuding with the militant
Hezbollah group, which is allied to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Several
recent bombings have targeted senior Hezbollah figures or districts where the
Shiite group dominates.
In a statement Friday, Hariri implicitly
accused Hezbollah of killing Chatah in the explosion and warned, "Those
who assassinated (Chatah) ... want to assassinate Lebanon."
The Friday morning blast was heard across
the city and sent thick black smoke billowing in the post downtown commercial district
behind the government headquarters and above the seafront of the Lebanese
capital. It was also near several hotels.
The army cordoned off the scene, where the twisted wreckage of several
cars was still smoldering. The National News Agency said the explosion was the
result of a car bomb, but security officials said they had no immediate
The explosion sent shock waves among residents and
emptied the streets in downtown where people, seeking a respite from
recent turmoil, had ventured out to enjoy the Christmas and New Year
The security officials said Chatah was on
the way to a meeting at Hariri's downtown residence when the bomb hit. They
spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the
Footage broadcast on Lebanese TV showed
medical workers rushing the wounded to ambulances. At least two bodies could be
seen lying on the pavement.
The Syrian war has raised tensions in
Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite communities as each side lines up in support of
their brethren in the conflict next door.
That has fueled predictions that Lebanon,
still recovering from its 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is on the brink
of descending into full-blown sectarian violence.
Chatah, a prominent economist, was one of
the closest aides to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a
truck bombing in Beirut in 2005, not
far from Friday's explosion.
He later became finance minister when
Hariri's son, Saad, took over the premiership, and stayed on as his senior
adviser after he lost the post in early 2011.
occurred three weeks before the long-delayed opening of a trial of five
Hezbollah suspects indicted for the February 2005 bombing that Rafik
Hariri and 21 other people. Hezbollah has denied involvement in the 2005
attack. Preliminary U.N. investigations implicated Syrian officials.
tweet posted on Chatah's Twitter account less than an hour before the
blast accused the Shiite movement of trying to take control of the
country, saying, "Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar
powers insecurity and foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in
Lebanon for 15 years."
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