A powerful bombing rocked a central business district of central Beirut yesterday, setting cars ablaze and killing five people, including a senior aide to former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, officials said.
The National News Agency said Mohammed Chatah and his driver were both killed in the explosion, which wounded more than 70 others.
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 Hezbollah, which is allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The blast was heard across the city and sent thick black smoke billowing in the downtown commercial district behind government house and above the seafront of the Lebanese capital.
The army cordoned off the area to prevent people from getting close to the scene, where the twisted wreckage of several cars was still smoldering. The explosion appeared to be the result of a car bomb, but security officials said they had no immediate confirmation.
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 conflict next door has raised tensions in Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities, as each side lines up in support of their brethren in the Syrian conflict.
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 and former ambassador to the US, was one of the closest aides to former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a truck bombing in Beirut in 2005, not far from yesterday’s explosion.
He later became finance minister when Hariri’s son, Saad, took over as prime minister and stayed on as his senior adviser after he lost the post in early 2011.