27 January 2008

(#4) Hazmieh Explosion - update4

Rifi: Police Arrested 3 Suspects in Eid's Murder, Car was Packed with 75 kg of Explosives

National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi uncovered that the vehicle used in the assassination of Maj. Wissam Eid, one of Lebanon's top terrorism investigators, was rigged with 75 kilograms of explosives.

Rifi told the Jeddah-based Okaz newspaper that the amount used in Friday's bombing was the biggest to be used since the series of assassinations began in 2005 with the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

He said investigators were able to determine the brand of the car and its chassis number.

Rifi said three suspects were arrested at the crime scene in the Chevrolet neighborhood of Hazmieh east of Beirut.

Meanwhile investigators were trying to determine if the latest bombing was part of a string of attacks that have targeted leading anti-Syrian politicians in the past three years, a security official said.

Eid was one of the country's top terrorism investigators who was probing assassinations of prominent anti-Syrian figures and a series of other attacks in recent years, including Hariri's murder.

Eid, 31, worked for the police intelligence agency which is closely tied to the government and had survived two previous assassination attempts. Friday's attack also killed his bodyguard and three passers-by and wounded around 40 people.

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, whose government is locked in a fierce power struggle with the Hizbullah-led opposition, vowed to pursue "the criminals who planned and carried out this crime which is aimed at destroying the state security institutions."

"The road to independence is fraught with dangers and filled with sacrifices," Saniora said.

Police investigators on Saturday collected fingerprints and bits of shrapnel and debris from the car at the explosion site in an effort to discover clues, including the vehicle owner.

Rifi also vowed to continue the fight against terrorist groups.

"Our choice is to defend this country. Our decision is to continue our march to confront the empire of death and terror," Rifi.

As a senior officer in the intelligence department, Eid had handled "very important" files including "all those having to do with the terrorist bombings," Rifi said.

His work in the technology field was believed to include sifting through millions of telecommunication tips and cellular phone contacts as part of those investigations.

The police intelligence department Eid worked for is close to the anti-Syrian majority that controls Lebanon's government and parliament and it and has been often criticized by the pro-Syrian opposition.

Syria has been blamed for many of Lebanon's recent bombings, including that of Hariri. Damascus has denied the charges.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.