Mourners pack Beirut funeral after fatal car bomb

Soldiers have carried two flag-draped coffins through a central Beirut square packed with thousands of Lebanese mourners who turned out for the funeral of a top intelligence official and his bodyguard.

Mourners pack Beirut funeral after fatal car bomb

Soldiers have carried two flag-draped coffins through a central Beirut square packed with thousands of Lebanese mourners who turned out for the funeral of a top intelligence official and his bodyguard.

The men were killed in a massive car bombing that many blame on the regime in neighbouring Syria.

Soldiers set up road blocks and cordoned off Martyrs Square, where the coffins of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan and his bodyguard were brought for burial.

“We came for Lebanon’s future to show that we will not be scared,” said Arama Fakhouri, an interior designer from Beirut in the cheering crowd. Many people were shouting that Mr al-Hassan was a martyr who was struck down while trying to protect Lebanon.

Mr Al-Hassan, 47, was a powerful opponent of Syria in Lebanon. He headed an investigation over the summer that led to the arrest of former information minister Michel Samaha, a Lebanese politician who was one of Syria’s most loyal allies in Lebanon. He was among eight people killed in the attack on Friday.

“He was killed while he was defending his country,” said Samer al-Hirri, who travelled from northern Lebanon to attend the funeral.

Ahead of the burial, there was a memorial ceremony attended by government officials and Mr al-Hassan’s wife Anna, his two sons, Majd and Mazen, and his parents.

Even before Friday’s bombing, the civil war in neighbouring Syria had set off violence in Lebanon and deepened tensions between supporters and opponents of president Bashar Assad’s regime.

The attack heightened fears that Lebanon could easily plunge back into cycles of sectarian violence and reprisal that have haunted it for decades.

France’s foreign minister said it was likely that Assad’s government had a hand in the assassination. Laurent Fabius told Europe-1 radio that while it was not fully clear who was behind the attack, it was “probable” that Syria played a role.

“Everything suggests that it’s an extension of the Syrian tragedy,” he said.

Dozens of anti-Syrian protesters erected eight tents near the Cabinet headquarters in central Beirut, saying they will stay until prime minister Najib Mikati’s government, which is dominated by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its allies, resigns.

Hezbollah is Syria’s most powerful ally in Lebanon, which for much of the past 30 years has lived under Syrian military and political domination.

“The Syrian regime started a war against us and we will fight this battle until the end,” said protester Anthony Labaki, a 24-year-old physiotherapist who is a member of the right-wing Phalange Party.

He said the protesters will not leave the area until Mr Mikati’s government resigns and those behind Mr al-Hassan’s killing are uncovered.

Syria’s hold on Lebanon began to slip in 2005, when former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an opponent of Syria, was assassinated in a truck bomb along Beirut’s Mediterranean waterfront. Syria denied any role but broad public outrage in Lebanon expressed in massive street protests forced Damascus to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops from the country.

For years after the pullouts, there was a string of attacks on anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon without any trials for those responsible. Assad has managed to maintain his influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah and other allies.

Mr Samaha, the former minister arrested in al-Hassan’s investigation, remains in custody. He is accused of plotting a wave of attacks in Lebanon at Syria’s behest.

Syrian Brigadier General Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s most senior aides, was indicted in absentia in the August sweep that saw Mr Samaha arrested. The arrest was an embarrassing blow to Syria, which has long acted with impunity in Lebanon.

The car bombing struck Beirut’s mainly Christian Achrafieh neighbourhood and also wounded dozens of people, including children.

Mr Al-Hassan will be buried in Beirut’s Martyrs Square next to the late Mr Hariri. Security was tight as thousands of people headed to the capital from around the country to attend the funeral.

Mr Al-Hassan’s body will first be taken to police headquarters for an official procession to the square.

Policemen and soldiers cordoned off the square, searching people trying to enter and barring vehicles. Giant posters of Mr al-Hassan were set up around Beirut ahead of the funeral, calling him a “martyr of sovereignty and independence.”

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