Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bomb kills key ISF terror investigator

Bomb kills key ISF terror investigator
Bodyguard, three civilians also perish

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: A powerful bomb killed a key Internal Security Forces (ISF) investigator and at least four other people in a Beirut suburb on Friday. The attack next to the Chevrolet-Hazmieh highway, which targeted Captain Wissam Mahmoud Eid, head of the technical office at the ISF's Intelligence Bureau, also wounded at least 40 other people. Security sources said the bomb was placed in a BMW car parked on the side of an exit ramp. The explosive charge, estimated at 60 kilograms of TNT, was believed to have been detonated by remote control, according to judicial sources. The blast left a 5-meter-wide crater and sent plumes of black smoke into the air. Several vehicles on the highway at the time, as well as others parked in an adjacent lot, were also destroyed. Firefighters rushed to the scene to battle the blaze as Civil Defense and Lebanese Red Cross personnel worked to rescue people who were trapped in their cars by the explosion.

Eid had been investigating several terrorist bombings and assassinations that have taken place in Lebanon since 2005, including the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Eid, who hailed from the Northern village of Deir Ammar, was 31 years of age and single. He joined the ISF in April 2001. Also killed in the car with Eid was his bodyguard, First Sergeant Osama Mashhur Mereb, a 30-year-old from Akkar who was married with two children. Eid was given a posthumous promotion to the rank of major and Mereb was made an adjutant. The three civilian bystanders killed in the blast were identified as Elie Fares, Saeed Elias Azar and Alain Sandouk. The bombing was not the first to target officials linked to the Hariri investigation. In February 2006, a hand grenade was thrown at Eid's home. He was not at home at the time and escaped injury. Eid was also involved in the standoff with Fatah al-Islam militants along Mitain Street in Tripoli in May 2007. Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehadeh, deputy head of the ISF Intelligence Branch, was wounded on September 5, 2006, in a blast south of Beirut that killed four of his bodyguards.

After hearing the news, residents of Deir Ammar burned tires and blocked the main highway in the town for three hours before mediation efforts allowed security forces to reopen the road. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora declared Saturday an official day of mourning. Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa, speaking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, said the perpetrators' target was security in the country, adding that Eid was among the ISF's most valuable officers. "This is not the first time the security forces are targeted in this way. This will not affect our moral, nor deter us from our mission ... There is a determination and a desire to work toward freedom and sovereignty," he said. The ISF's director general, General Ashraf Rifi, who visited the bomb site shortly after the attack, said the bombing targeted a valuable ISF employee who played a vital role in several investigations. "After the targeting of General Francois Hajj [chief of operations for the Lebanese Armed Forces], today a very important ISF officer has been targeted but we are continuing in our mission, whatever the cost, to protect this country," Rifi told reporters after inspecting the blast site. "We will not be scared off or deterred by such actions." "The message has been received. It is a terror message sent to us by targeting our martyr Eid, who was working on the technical aspects of all cases involving terrorist bombings in the country," Rifi added.

Also at the scene on Friday was the government representative to the Military Tribunal, Judge Jean Fahd, followed by Military Investigating Magistrate Rashid Mizher and State Prosecutor Said Mirza. The Red Cross initially confirmed four dead, but one of the civilians died a few hours later. Most of the wounded were taken to hospitals in the area. "Around 40 people who suffered minor injuries were admitted to hospitals," Georges Kettaneh, director of the Lebanese Red Cross, told The Daily Star. "Most of the injuries were from flying shrapnel and burns." Retired General Elias Hanna, now an analyst and university lecturer, said Eid may have been targeted because more senior officers were out of reach. "When MPs were about to elect a new president MPs were being targeted, when General Michel Suleiman was named as the consensus candidate Hajj was targeted," he said. "Now the target are the security institutions in the country." He said while no one knows for sure why Eid was targeted, it all depends on what he was working on at the time. "Maybe he spoke to people during his investigations which led him to other people," Hanna said. "Who knows where he got to in his investigation? Maybe he was killed because the assassins could not get to more senior officers, or maybe he got somewhere in his investigation." A funeral for Eid and Mereb will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at ISF headquarters in Achrafieh, after which their remains will be taken to their respective hometowns, Deir Ammar and Tripoli.

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