Car bombs are still the most common ballots in Beirut and just as Lebanese officials were threatening to sue the TV series, Homeland, for depicting Beirut as a terrorist-ridden city, a car bomb blew up killing a top Lebanese security official who was investigating Michel Samaha, a Lebanese confidant of Assad and one of the biggest players in the Hezbollah-Aoun alliance, , for his role in carrying out terrorist attacks.
First the gruesome scene. Car bombings are ugly and what they leave behind is even uglier.
There were multiple body parts on the ground when I arrived. We are hearing that eight are dead – which I think might end up a bit conservative – and as many as 72 wounded.
The area would have been very crowded. There’s going to be a lot of people in hospital tonight in Lebanon.
When the bomb exploded it shook the neighbourhood – I was about 800m to 1km away. But broken glass starts around four to five blocks from the epicentre.
There are at least 12 cars that have been destroyed by fire or explosions, including what looked like the car which had the bomb planted in it – it had been flipped over and landed on the hood of an Audi. It had been completely destroyed. There was broken glass throughout all of it. Almost like fallen snow.
The murder of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan sees the continuing purge of Hariri allies through sheer terror. But everything isn’t always as it seems in Lebanon where terrorist car bombings are used as cover for more personal killings and control of the ISF, Lebanon’s International Security Forces, has been a key factor in the Samaha case and the murder of al-Hassan.
The Proximity to Lebanese Forces screams that this was a political killing or that the perpetrators wanted it to be seen this way. This was not likely to be the easiest way to kill al-Hassan, but it was the most public and that sends the same message as the car bombs in the past have. al-Hassan had reportedly been the target of an earlier assassination attempt in January.
Lebanese Sunni and Shiite militias are already fighting on both sides of the Syrian Civil War and the civil war may be spilling over into Lebanon. Alawite and Sunni militias are already clashing over this, but the death toll, if any, is likely to be light. Despite the instability in the region, this is not a place for stand up fights and most confrontations involve lots of shooting and few dead. High casualties are usually from massacres of unarmed civilians, not from direct combat.
Christians are the targets, often enough, because they are arbiters of the power struggle, forming alliances that allow one or another faction to climb to power. That makes them power brokers, like Samaha, it also makes them into targets.
Hezbollah is condemning the attack, but it’s still a likely suspect. Syria’s Lebanese network is probably not in the best of shape with Assad fighting for survival. Syrian agents are needed in Aleppo and Hezbollah has more than enough people to do the job, even if it’s from a faction within the terrorist organization.
The leftist Syrian Social National Party, which is aligned with Assad, is blaming Israel, but that’s not too likely. If Israel were going to carry out an assassination in Beirut, it has much better targets.
Going by the standby MOM (Motive Opportunity Means) used so often in criminal cases is nearly useless in a city where everyone has all of the above. Every faction has people who can carry out a car bombing, who want to carry out a car bombing and who have the opportunity to do it. And that includes factions within the ISF.
The clearest motives for killing al-Hassan involved either preventing him from heading the ISF or suppressing ISF activities against Syrian interests. The latter is more likely, but some conflation with the former cannot be ruled out.
There’s one more message coming out of all this.
On September 14, 1982, Bashir Gemayel, the leader of Lebanese Forces, was assassinated by a car bomb near the headquarters of Lebanese Forces… and quite near the site of today’s bombing. That killing was carried out by the Syrian Social National Party. It is entirely likely that the Syrian Social National Party was responsible for today’s work as well.