- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2005

BEIRUT — A huge car bomb yesterday killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a billionaire who masterminded his country’s reconstruction but resigned four months ago amid tensions with Syria.

At least nine others, including several of Mr. al-Hariri’s bodyguards, died when his motorcade was blown up as it passed through an exclusive section of Beirut’s seafront.

Former Economy Minister Basil Fuleihan, also riding in the convoy, was critically wounded in the blast, the biggest in Lebanon since the end of the nation’s 1975-90 civil war. At least 100 other persons were injured, officials said.

The United States condemned the killing and said it would consult with members of the United Nations Security Council about how to punish Mr. al-Hariri’s killers and get Syrian troops out of Lebanon.

Lebanese opposition figures, including Druze party chief Walid Jumblatt and Christian ex-President Amin Gemayel, blamed Syrian and Lebanese authorities for Mr. al-Hariri’s death and called on the government to resign. Syrian officials condemned the killing and denied any role.



The explosion outside the St. George Hotel gouged a crater in the road, ripped facades from luxury buildings and set cars ablaze on streets.

Vehicles in the convoy were torn apart despite their armor plating. A senior security source said the cause was a car bomb.

“Everything around us collapsed,” said a Syrian building worker at the site. “It was as if an earthquake hit the area.”

A previously unknown Islamist group said in a video aired by Al Jazeera television that it had carried out a suicide attack against Mr. al-Hariri because he supported the Saudi royal family.

Hours later, Lebanese security forces stormed the Beirut home of a Palestinian who they said had read the statement on the video. A security source said Ahmed Aboul Adef was not in the house.

Opposition figures, who convened an emergency meeting after the assassination, called a three-day general strike and demanded the withdrawal of Syrian forces, which have been in Lebanon since the civil war.

Lebanese voices calling for Damascus to pull out its 14,000 troops have grown louder, backed by a Security Council resolution last year.

Protesters gathered outside the Lebanon headquarters of Syria’s ruling Ba’ath Party and accused Damascus of plotting the killing. They pelted the building with stones, burned pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and set tires on fire.

Mr. al-Hariri had remained politically influential since his resignation and recently joined the opposition calls for Syria to quit Lebanon before parliamentary elections later this year.

In Damascus, Mr. Assad called the blast a “horrendous criminal act” and told Lebanese President Emile Lahoud that no effort should be spared to find the killers.

“Syria regards this as an act of terrorism, a crime that seeks to destabilize [Lebanon],” Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said yesterday that he was “shocked” by the news of Mr. al-Hariri’s assassination, but that he doubted Syria was behind the killing.

“It would be too obvious,” Mr. Gheit told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “I just do not think the [Syrian government] would throw down the gauntlet to the world in this manner.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Washington would consult with other governments on measures that could be taken to punish those responsible for the blast.

In a barely veiled reference to Syria, he said international pressure was needed “to restore Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty and democracy by freeing it from foreign occupation.”

France joined the United States in calling for an international investigation.

Mr. al-Hariri, 60, had held office for most of the past 12 years before quitting in October amid a rift with Mr. Lahoud.

Mr. al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, spent about 20 years in Saudi Arabia, where construction deals made him a fortune that Forbes estimated at $3.8 billion in 2003.

Staff writer David R. Sands contributed to this report in Washington.

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