Beirut blast kills intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan

Wissam al-Hassan was among eight people who died in the attack

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Lebanon's head of internal intelligence has been killed in a massive car bomb attack in central Beirut.

Wissam al-Hassan was among eight people who died in the attack. He was close to opposition leader Saad Hariri, a leading critic of the government in neighbouring Syria.

Dozens were wounded in the blast, which Mr Hariri blamed on Damascus. Syria's government condemned the bombing.

Tension in Lebanon has been rising as a result of the Syrian conflict.

Wissam al-Hassan

  • Head of the intelligence branch of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces
  • Sunni Muslim born in the northern city of Tripoli in 1965
  • Responsible for the security of former PM Rafik Hariri
  • Viewed as being close to the Hariris and the opposition 14 March coalition
  • Responsible for the August arrest of pro-Syrian politician and ex-information minister Michel Samaha

Mr Hassan, the head of intelligence of Lebanon's internal security forces, was regarded as an opponent of Syria.

He led an investigation that implicated Damascus in the 2005 bombing that killed Mr Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

He also recently organised the arrest of a former minister accused of planning a Syrian-sponsored bombing campaign in Lebanon.

Friday's attack, the deadliest in Beirut since 2008, occurred in the mainly Christian district of Ashrafiya, in a busy street close to the headquarters of Saad Hariri's 14 March coalition.

Lebanon's Shia militant group Hezbollah - a close ally of the Syrian government - condemned the bombing.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi called it a "cowardly terrorist act".

Mr Hariri accused Mr Assad of being behind the bombing - an accusation echoed by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a longtime critic of Damascus.

At the scene

There were chaotic scenes as emergency vehicles rushed to Ashrafiya just as the weekend was about to begin.

After a long period of relative calm this is the first big bomb attack in the Lebanese capital in four years. But many here had feared something like this would happen sooner or later and that Lebanon would be inevitably dragged into the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Some Lebanese political leaders have already accused the Assad regime in Syria of being behind the attack, even though it is still too early to say who is responsible.

The danger now is not only that there may be further such attacks but also that tensions will grow between Lebanon's numerous armed and political factions - many of whom are defined by their positions on the Syrian conflict.

The 14 March bloc issued a statement accusing the Beirut government of protecting "criminals" and calling on it to stand down.

Opposition supporters took to the streets in several cities, burning tyres and denouncing the Syrian authorities and Hezbollah.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the government was trying to identify the perpetrators and they would be punished.

Correspondents say Friday's attack was reminiscent of scenes from Lebanon's civil war in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The blast, which was heard several kilometres away, set many cars ablaze and destroyed the facades of nearby buildings.

Ronnie Chatah, who lives nearby, told the BBC: "The building shook and it echoed throughout the neighbourhood."

About 80 people have been wounded. Hospitals across the city called for people to donate blood.

In Washington, the state department condemned the bombing.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US would "stand by the people of Lebanon" and reaffirmed her administration's "commitment to a stable, sovereign and independent Lebanon".

The United Nations Security Council also issued an "unequivocal condemnation".

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