Beirut car bomb kills son of Palestinian leader Jibril

It was the fear that showed most, in the eyes of the security men, the barber up the road, the girl in the florist halfway down Sharia Mama – Mother Street – when the smoke had cleared. Jihad Jibril, a man whose family nameresonates back to the dark days of Lebanon's civil war, was dead.

A clap of sound, a man called Mosbeh Mohamed Ali who saw a white car flying through the air, and a litter of human remains, ripped intestines on the roadway, a right arm in a garage, part of a torso hanging from the smoking vehicle. It was the old, bad Beirut back again, the Beirut of car bombs and assassinations, the Beirut of fear.

At first, of course, we didn't know who the dead man was. The arm was taken away to be fingerprinted, the remains of a mobile phone picked out of someone's garden. Beirut's top explosives officer – a very intelligent, sharp man with a terrible taste for pink jackets – thought the car had travelled a hundred metres before two kilos of explosives beneath the driver's seat exploded. Was he transporting the bomb? And who was supposed to die?

That's why people in Beirut were frightened. In this city, if a bomb is being moved around, it means a lot of people are involved, that there must be more than one bomb. Then we learnt that the white Peugeot, Lebanese registration number 108790, had been seen parked earlier behind an antique furniture store at the top of the street. And by midday, we all knew that the grisly stumps and bits of flesh belonged to Jihad Jibril, the 38-year-old son of one of the great and ruthless revolutionaries of the old PLO and commander in Lebanon of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Now the grizzled old Ahmed Jibril lives in Damascus. So what was his son doing in the centre of Beirut? Was he collecting explosives or did his enemies decide to destroy him? Enemies? Well, there are plenty among the Palestinians – Yassir Arafat and Jibril the Elder have little time left for each other – and the Israelis have no love for the young men of the PFLP-GC. Jibril senior's men in Damascus of course blamed Israel. In April, nine PFLP-GC men tried to attack Israel across the Lebanese border – which made the Lebanese very fearful. Last year, Jibril senior acknowledged sending a load of weapons to the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

So there were the usual shaking of heads in Sharia Mama, the lighting up of too many cigarettes by the detectives. Jibril held lieutenant-colonel's rank in the PFLP-GC in Lebanon but was also studying law at a Beirut university. He left a wife and two small children. "The response for the assassination will be on the same scale," one of his comrades announced ominously. "But time and circumstances will decide the nature of the operation."

Those were words from the bad old Beirut which we saw in January when Elie Hobeika and two bodyguards were killed by a bomb for which Lebanese blamed Israel and which Israel, of course, denied.

Sometimes, the bad old Beirut seems to be just below the surface, a few feet below us, at the depth of a grave.

* Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the PFLP, who is in prison under British and US supervision may have masterminded a suicide bombing which killed three Israelis on Sunday, according to a government official. It is the first public sign of tension over the arrangements for his imprisonment, along with five other Palestinians, last month in return for the end of the siege of Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Israeli media reports say he has access to a mobile phone in his cell and has had visits from activists.

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