Car Bomb Kills Anti-Syrian Journalist in Lebanon

A car bomb kills a prominent anti-Syrian journalist in Lebanon. Samir Qassir's car exploded as he started the engine. His death comes amid parliamentary elections in Lebanon. They're the first to be held since Syrian troops and security agents withdrew from the country earlier this year.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A bomb explosion in Lebanon has killed a prominent anti-Syrian journalist. Samir Qaseer died when his car exploded as he started the engine. His death comes in the midst of parliamentary elections in Lebanon. They're the first to be held since Syrian troops and security agents withdrew from the country. NPR's Ivan Watson is in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

And tell us: How well-known was Samir Qaseer?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Renee, he was a front-page newspaper columnist. Every week he would slam neighboring Syria and its 30-year political and military domination of Lebanon. He was also one of the key organizers and one of the faces of the anti-Syrian street demonstrations that we saw in Beirut throughout March and April. And recall that those demonstrations, those protests, combined with international pressure, helped force Syria to withdraw the last of its soldiers from Lebanon a little more than a month ago.

MONTAGNE: And are the Lebanese blaming Syria for his death?

WATSON: Well, some politicians are already blaming Syria and its close allies in Lebanon. They have named the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, who is mocked by many opposition politicians, as a puppet of Syria, and they've also accused the Lebanese security services and suggested that as long as these people remain in power in Lebanon, that the assassinations will continue.

MONTAGNE: And despite the holding of free elections and that Syrian withdrawal, violence continues, then, in Lebanon.

WATSON: Since March, there have been five explosions in predominantly Christian neighborhoods in and around Beirut, and the Christian community tends to be the most outspokenly critical of neighboring Syria. And then we have to recall another massive explosion that set off this whole period of instability last February. It was a huge car bomb that killed the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, as well as at least 20 others, and that touched off the entire crisis here.

Syria now has withdrawn its forces, but Lebanon is still deeply divided. Its society is split into 18 different religious groups. They were caught up in a 15-year civil war. There's three more rounds of elections scheduled, and residents of Beirut are clearly shocked and scared right now after this assassination.

MONTAGNE: Ivan, thanks very much.

NPR's Ivan Watson in Damascus.

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