Top Lebanese agent dead in Beirut bomb blast

Wissam al-Hassan, who led probe into former prime minster's assassination, among eight dead in a rush hour explosion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 3:58am

Senior Lebanese intelligence official Wissam al-Hassan, who led the investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, died yesterday in a Beirut explosion.

"I can just say that it is true, he is dead," a Lebanese official, who worked with al-Hassan, said.

Al-Hassan was also the brains behind uncovering a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of a Lebanese politician allied to President Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Hassan was no ordinary officer. He was a close aide to Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who was killed in a 2005 bomb attack. He led the Hariri investigation and uncovered evidence that linked Syria and Lebanon's pro-Iranian Shi'ite Muslim group in the killing.

The explosion ripped through the street where the office of the anti-Damascus Christian Phalange Party is located.

The blast occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school, and sent black smoke billowing into the sky. Several cars were destroyed and the front of a multi-storey building was damaged, with wires and metal railings crashing to the floor.

Eight people were killed and at least 78 were wounded, the state news agency said, quoting civil defence officials.

In the aftermath, residents ran about in panic looking for relatives, while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances.

In scenes reminiscent of the dark days of Lebanon's civil war, ambulances ferried the wounded to several hospitals, where doctors, nurses and students waited for casualties at the doors.

An employee of a bank on the street pointed to the blown-out windows of his building.

"Some people were wounded from my bank. I think it was a car bomb. The whole car jumped five floors into the air," he said.

Michael Fish, 25, a British musician visiting Beirut, said he was in his hotel a street away when the explosion happened.

"At first I thought it was an earthquake. It shook the whole hotel for a second. I ran down and started filming on my iPhone," he said.

Windows of several buildings were blown off by the force of the explosion and the ground was sprinkled with shattered glass, as residents and medical volunteers evacuated the wounded.

"Had we not been out of the house buying medicines, we would have died," wept Nancy, a 45-year-old woman.

"Our house was burned. Thank God we're alive."