BAABDA, LEBANON, OCT. 21 -- Gunmen wearing Lebanese army uniforms today stormed the home of Christian leader Dany Chamoun, a staunch foe of Syria's presence in Lebanon, and shot him to death, along with his wife and two small sons.
The assassination, in a Syrian-policed residential area, eliminated one of the few remaining symbols of Lebanon's old political elite.
A governess who was present during the attack said the unknown gunmen fired several shots into Chamoun, 56, and his wife, Ingrid, 35, killing them, and then shot Tariq, 8, in the face, killing him instantly, and chased Julian, 6, into a bedroom and shot him in the head. He died later in a hospital.
Chamoun, who had survived an assassination attempt by rival Christians in 1980, was the son of the late Camille Chamoun, Lebanon's president and the longtime patriarch and political leader of one of the country's major Maronite Catholic factions. The elder Chamoun served as president from 1952 to 1956, during a time of Arab nationalist turbulence in the country.
The brutal slaying, which the Chamouns' 11-month-old daughter survived, came just eight days after the Syrian army routed Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the last Lebanese Christian military resistance to a new Syrian-allied government here. Speculation about the reason for his assassination centered on that attack and its aftermath.
Chamoun had been a strong supporter of Aoun, but Prime Minister Selim Hoss, who visited the scene of the murders today, said Chamoun had been in touch with him in recent days and had shown a "willingness, openness and sense of responsibility in dealing with us." Without elaborating or offering further evidence, Hoss said, "Maybe he died for that."
Both Hoss, a Moslem, and Gen. Emile Lahoud, a Christian and commander of the Lebanese army, said the attackers may have worn Lebanese uniforms to discredit the army, which is just beginning to embrace former rival Christian militias and to extend its authority over all of Lebanon.
Hoss, in an interview, said: "The army itself is targeted. Someone wants to smear its role and reputation. Too many people don't like the process we started and have an interest in derailing it."
Lahoud, talking to relatives gathered in the Chamoun home, said the slaying was a "blow to the army."
Lebanese President Elias Hrawi, whose rule Chamoun had opposed, was in Damascus at the time of the attack, meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad. Hrawi was quoted by radio stations here as calling the assassination "a crime against the state aimed at sabotaging efforts to reunite the country and army after Aoun's ouster." Assad told Lebanese television, "We don't find such events comforting at this particular point in time."
Hrawi became president a year ago after Arab League states convened Lebanese legislators in Taif, Saudi Arabia, to reconstruct the country's political structure in a way that will reduce the Christians' long dominance and increase that of Moslems, who now form a majority of the population. Hrawi and other Christians allied with Syria have supported the Taif accord, but Aoun and Chamoun opposed it.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, whose country granted Lebanon its independence in the 1940s, expressed horror at the slayings, the Associated Press reported. "Dany Chamoun had opened a perspective toward reconciliation in Lebanon," he said. "It's this chance they wanted to assassinate."
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who also opposed the Taif accord, accused Lebanese army intelligence of responsibility and predicted a reign of terror in the weeks to come.
The Chamouns' governess, who asked to be identified only as Jeanette, said the gunmen forced their way into the apartment about 6:35 a.m. today, at a time when there was a brief lapse between shifts in the family's full-time security guard.
One of the men "took the master aside by the elbow telling him, 'I need to talk to you,' " she said, and another locked her and a maid in the bathroom as the children tried to run away.
Jeanette said she heard a loud struggle and ran out to find Chamoun, his wife and son Tariq shot and lying in blood. Authorities said later that Chamoun had been hit seven times in his stomach and head.
"The little one, Julian, ran into his room and hid under the bed, but one of the men followed him and shot him in the mouth and head," Jeanette sobbed. Seeing that Julian was still alive, she picked up the bleeding boy and called for help, but he died after being taken to a hospital.
Chamoun's father-in-law, Elie Abdel Nour, said that while gardening he had seen the killers arrive but had assumed from their new army fatigue uniforms that they were the change of guard. Sitting at the kitchen table, Abdel Nour called another daughter in Paris. "Don't come home. They are all gone," he said, sobbing softly.
Chamoun, handsome and athletic, was less of a politician than his father and had never managed to attract a large power base. But his nonchalant attitude to politics endeared him to friends and even many foes. He was a mechanical engineer by training.
His family, at various moments in Lebanon's turbulent history, had ties to both the Palestinian leadership and Israel. He was a friend of Jordan's King Hussein. Chamoun was one of those in his generation who had inherited political power and standing from his late father, one of the pillars of the Lebanese state following independence.
He became involved in his father's National Liberal Partyin 1975 at the start ofLebanon's civil war, and commanded the party's militia. He and his family survived an assassination attempt in 1980, when militiamen commanded by Bashir Gemayel overran his forces.
His militia was disbanded in 1980, and the Chamouns joined forces with Gemayel in the Lebanese Front, a coalition of Christian Lebanese leaders.