Publisher killed in Beirut

Lawmaker, outspoken critic of Syria dies in car bombing

December 13, 2005|By MEGAN K. STACK | MEGAN K. STACK,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Gibran Tueni, a newspaper publisher, legislator and one of the most outspoken critics of Syrian interference in Lebanon, was killed yesterday by a car bomb as he drove through the hills of Beirut.

A third-generation newspaperman and newly elected lawmaker, the charismatic Tueni was the most prominent Lebanese figure killed since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in February. Hours after Tueni's death, the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the attack and a continuing investigation into Hariri's killing.

Hariri's assassination, along with more than a dozen bombings that struck Lebanon after his death, has been widely blamed on Syria. At least four politicians and journalists have been killed this year and another nearly killed, each an unflinching critic of Syrian involvement here.

The violence has led many Lebanese to the conclusion that Damascus has embarked on a systematic campaign to stifle criticism through murder.

Top officials in Damascus deny any hand in the violence, but Syria withdrew its soldiers and intelligence agents from Lebanon in the spring amid a groundswell of anger and intense international pressure after Hariri was killed.

Yesterday, the chief of the U.N. investigation into Hariri's death, Detlev Mehlis, accused Damascus of blocking his inquiry and intimidating witnesses. He was to brief the U.N. Security Council today on his latest findings, which he said bolster his earlier conclusions that senior Syrian and Lebanese officials orchestrated the assassination.

Tueni, a 48-year-old Christian, returned to Lebanon on Sunday. He had taken refuge in France over the summer, saying that his name topped an assassination list. His armored SUV was struck on a road that twists through an industrial patch of factories and printing houses in the pine-shaded hills of east Beirut. The bomb was apparently planted in a parked car.

Workers in the area said it was well-known that Tueni generally drove into town from his suburban home along that road, which winds precariously along the edge of a steep cliff.

The blast from the 220-pound bomb blew out factory windows for blocks around. Tueni's vehicle burst into flames and was thrown into the ravine.

"I don't have any doubt that [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad and his band of organized criminals are behind this," Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said after inspecting the site. Hamadeh, Tueni's uncle, is a critic of Syria who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by car bomb last year.

At least two other people were killed in the blast; one was identified as Tueni's bodyguard. Witnesses said the corpses were blackened beyond recognition. About 30 people were wounded.

Megan K. Stack writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times reporters Maggie Farley at the United Nations and Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this article.

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