A car bomb killed Lebanese newspaper magnate and anti-Syrian lawmaker Gebran Tueni in Beirut Monday, a day after he returned from Paris, where he had based himself in recent months in fear of assassination.
Several Lebanese politicians immediately blamed Syria, which has denied any role and said the killing was timed to smear it.
Police said Tueni, publisher of An-Nahar daily, was among four people killed in the explosion that destroyed his armored sports utility vehicle as it was driving in the Mekalis area of mainly Christian east Beirut. Some 32 people were wounded.
The bodies of Tueni, 48, his driver and a bodyguard were found in his car, charred beyond recognition. Assault rifles and military bags laid beside them inside the wrecked vehicle.
A previously unknown group calling itself "Strugglers for the Unity and Freedom of the Levant" claimed responsibility for the killing, saying the same fate awaited other opponents of "Arabism" in Lebanon.
There was no way to verify the authenticity of the claim, whose wording appeared designed to cast suspicion on Damascus.
Security sources said a parked car packed with up to 100 kilograms of dynamite was detonated by remote control as Tueni's car passed by. Tueni's car was hurled from the road and landed in a different street dozens of meters away.
Tueni was killed just hours before the UN Security Council was due to receive a report by chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis, who has been trying to identify those behind the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. An interim report by Mehlis in October said the evidence pointed towards the involvement of Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies in Hariri's killing. Syria denies this.
Damascus condemns the attack
Lebanese Druze leader and politician Walid Jumblatt told Arab satellite television channels that Tueni's killing was linked to the Mehlis report and suggested Syria was behind it.
Asked who was responsible, he told al-Arabiya television: "Gebran Tueni and An-Nahar were being threatened for a long time by the Syrian regime... we got the message. We will persevere."
Jumblatt said: "They killed Gebran Tueni today because Mehlis will present his report today. This is a message to the international community and the Lebanese community."
Syria condemned the latest attack in Lebanon, which has been rocked by more than a dozen bombings and assassinations since the truck bomb that killed Hariri and 22 others.
"Syria denounces this crime that claimed the lives of Lebanese, irrespective of their political stances," Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhl-Allah told LBC television.
He dismissed accusations Damascus was involved and suggested that its arch-foe Israel might have played a role. Syria's state-run SANA news agency said it was timed to smear Syria.
Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud said he was outraged.
The blast set several cars ablaze and damaged nearby shops and buildings. Police and soldiers cordoned off the area as rescue workers ferried casualties to hospitals.
Tueni, a fierce critic of Syria's policies in Lebanon who was elected to parliament this year, said in August he believed he was on a hit-list for assassination. He had spent much of his time since then in Paris, but returned to Beirut late on Sunday.
(China Daily December 13, 2005)