A car bomb tore through the motorcade of Lebanon's pro-Syrian defense minister as it made its way through a Christian neighborhood near Beirut on Tuesday, wounding him, killing at least one person and shattering windows half a mile away. The attack was the latest in a string of bombings in the country, but the first to target a pro-Syrian official.
The bomb, estimated to contain 90 to 150 pounds of TNT, detonated at midmorning as Elias Murr drove his car in a motorcade along a hill that overlooks Beirut and passes embassies and diplomatic residences. The blast, heard across the capital, wounded 12 others, including the Mexican ambassador's wife, who was in a nearby house. At least seven cars were wrecked, and debris was hurled over the walls of villas.
Murr, burned and bloodied by the blast, told Lebanese television from his bed at Serhal Hospital that, as fire seared his car, he climbed through the shattered driver's window and hailed a passing car for help.
"The country is going through a difficult period, and we all have to bear that," said Murr, 43, who was treated for shrapnel wounds to his hands and burns to his head. "Trading accusations will only create more excuses for those behind the explosions."
The attack on Murr follows the killings in June of a prominent journalist and a politician, both by small bombs planted in their cars. On Feb. 14, Rafiq Hariri, a former prime minister, was killed by a devastating bomb along the capital's Corniche, or coastal drive. That killing ignited mass protests that helped force Syria to end its 29-year military presence in the country.
Many people in Lebanon speculated that Syria was behind those attacks. But Murr, the son-in-law of Lebanon's staunchly pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, is considered a Syrian ally and a candidate for a portfolio in Lebanon's next cabinet.
His targeting added another wrinkle to Lebanon's already tangled politics and gave rise to furious speculation on the motive -- with some pointing to information he might have on Hariri's killing and others noting his role in disrupting a reputed Islamic radical cell last year.
The string of bombings has unsettled this tiny Mediterranean country, which only recently had shown signs of regaining a routine after the tumult that followed Hariri's assassination. It faces economic uncertainty over a crushing $36 billion public debt and the political challenge of negotiating the future of Hezbollah, the pro-Syrian Shiite Muslim movement that maintains an armed wing.
A new parliament was elected last month, free of Syrian domination for the first time in decades. But a cabinet has yet to be named after two weeks of haggling over posts, and Tuesday's attack prompted calls for its quick appointment.
The prime minister-designate, Fuad Siniora, said he presented a list of 30 ministers for Lahoud's approval Tuesday. "What we have to do right now is to put our differences aside," said Ibrahim Kanaan, a parliament member. "We need to have a cabinet. This situation, a caretaker government, is just unacceptable."
Murr is the son of Michel Murr, a prominent politician and Syrian ally. In a deal unusual even by Lebanese standards, the elder Murr entered into an alliance in last month's parliamentary elections with Michel Aoun, a retired general and staunch Syrian opponent who returned in May from exile in France.
The younger Murr also served as deputy prime minister and as interior minister in an earlier government, where he was renowned for a fondness for the limelight. In September, he announced that he had uncovered a plot linked to Jordanian-born radical Abu Musab Zarqawi to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, assassinate Western diplomats and attack Lebanese security facilities.
Syria, in a statement carried by its official news agency, suggested Tuesday's attack was meant to destabilize its neighbor. "These acts of terror target Lebanese from all political currents, which affirms that those behind them are directly linked to the enemies of Lebanon and stability in the region," said the statement, attributed to an official source.
Lebanese opponents of Syria, quick to blame it for the past assassinations, were more circumspect. But one influential politician, Walid Jumblatt, suggested that the attack was meant to keep Murr from testifying to a U.N. team about Hariri's killing. "There is a plan to liquidate those with information about the assassination of Rafiq Hariri," he told Lebanese television.
Shadid reported from Cairo.