Explosion targets Lebanese minister's motorcade

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The Independent Online

A car bomb hit the motorcade of Lebanon's outgoing deputy prime minister today, wounding him and killing at least one other person, police said.

It was the first blast targeting a pro-Syrian politician in a string of bombings in Lebanon this year.

Elias Murr, who is also the outgoing defence minister, was slightly wounded in the blast, said one police officer at the scene. The explosion left one vehicle a charred and twisted wreck, and several nearby cars and buildings were damaged.

The state National News Agency said one person was killed and six wounded, including Murr and an army colonel in his escort. Police put the number of wounded at 10. Television footage showed one man, bloodied, but sitting up and moving, being helped out of one of the cars.

The mid-morning blast, which reverberated across the Lebanese capital, took place in the northern district of Naqash on a road leading from the pine-wooded mountains down to the coastal road, a route Murr routinely takes from his residence in Rabiya to Beirut.

Police said a vehicle packed with explosives went off as Murr's motorcade passed. The explosion knocked out a wide crater in the road and flung the booby-trapped vehicle over the stone wall of an adjacent villa. Murr's smashed car, a Porsche Cayenne four-wheel-drive, came to rest several yards from the crater.

Murr is the fifth personality to be targeted for assassination in the last year - but he is the first pro-Syrian among them to be hit.

Other attacks and bombings have targeted opponents of Damascus and were blamed by Lebanon's anti-Syrian groups on the Syrian government and its allies in the Lebanese intelligence services.

In October, former economy minister Marwan Hamadeh survived a car bomb explosion with serious injuries. His bodyguard was killed. In February, former prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed along with 20 others in a bombing on a Beirut street. Hariri's assassination led to mass anti-Syrian protests and intensified international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon in April.

But even after the Syrian withdrawal, bombings continued. In early June, anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir was killed in a bomb placed under his car. Former Communist Party leader George Hawi was killed in a similar fashion later in the month.

Many have blamed Syria in the attacks, though some political leaders have warned of a campaign to destabilise Lebanon in the post-Syria era.

Murr is strongly pro-Syrian - the son-in-law of President Emile Lahoud, Damascus' staunchest ally in Lebanon. He is also the son of long-time Syrian ally Michel Murr. Lahoud rushed to the hospital to check on his son-in-law's condition.

The explosion came as Lebanon remained without a government, with premier-designate Fuad Saniora still struggling to meet all political groups' demands to come up with a national unity Cabinet. Elias Murr's name figured prominently in the new Cabinet's lineup, according to media reports.

Murr also is a former interior minister. Under his watch, a Muslim militant allegedly linked to a plot to blow up foreign embassies was killed in police custody last year, prompting sharp criticism of Murr - and increased security in his neighbourhood.