- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

BEIRUT — A bomb killed a prominent anti-Syrian journalist in Beirut yesterday, sparking fears that the end of Syria’s occupation will thrust Lebanon into a new period of violence.

Samir Kassir, a columnist with the staunchly anti-government An-Nahar newspaper, was torn in half by a bomb placed under the seat of his car that detonated when he started the vehicle about midday, according to Lebanese police and witnesses.

The bomb set the car afire and shattered windows in nearby buildings. Colleagues wept as police sealed off the area.

“Every time Lebanon takes a step forward, there are those who want to undermine this country,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said during a visit to the scene.

“We will not allow anyone to target security and freedom,” Mr. Mikati said.

The killing comes amid Lebanon’s first elections in nearly 30 years without the presence of Syrian troops.

Parliamentary elections run through the end of the month and are expected to produce a parliament hostile to President Emile Lahoud, who is pro-Syrian.

Syria occupied Lebanon for 29 years and was forced to withdraw its 14,000 troops and most intelligence agents in April after widespread protests sparked by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Mr. Kassir, a 45-year-old Christian, was an academic and founding member of the Democratic Left Movement, a small group that joined the anti-Syrian opposition and played an active role in the protest campaign against Damascus’ control.

In addition to writing a newspaper column, he was a regular on TV talk shows.

Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt blamed Mr. Lahoud and Syrian intelligence agents who stayed behind when troops pulled out in April.

“Samir Kassir was assassinated by the remnants of the security agencies that control the country and that is headed by Emile Lahoud,” Mr. Jumblatt told Future television.

“As long as the serpent’s head is in Baabda, the assassinations will continue,” he later told the Al Arabiya satellite news channel, referring to Mr. Lahoud and the presidential palace in the Beirut suburb of Baabda.

Mr. Kassir was famous for protesting the Syrian occupation, and in his last column, he took aim at Syria’s Ba’athist regime as unwilling to reform or modernize.

“The huge regional changes from Iraq to Lebanon only drive [the Ba’athists] to warn of U.S. dangers without thinking for a minute of the best ways to prevent this danger,” he wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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