Bomb Wounds Lebanese Minister

A remote-controlled explosion hits the motorcade of Lebanon's defense minister, Elias Murr, wounding him and killing two others. There have been several assassinations in the Lebanese capital, Beirut over the past few months. But Tuesday's attack was the first on an ally of Syria.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And now on to Lebanon, where an explosion hit the motorcade of the country's defense minister today. Elias al-Murr was wounded; two other people were killed. There have been several assassinations in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, over the past few months. In February, the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was killed in a massive explosion. Many Lebanese blamed neighboring Syria for Hariri's death, and under international and Lebanese pressure, Syria ended its 29-year military presence in the country. Today's attack was the first on a politician who was an ally of Syria. NPR's Deborah Amos is in Beirut.

And, Deb, what was the reaction there to this latest assassination attempt?

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

Robert, many Lebanese I've talked to today are simply overwhelmed by the latest bombing. And, of course, for those who lived through Lebanon's civil war, it brought back memories of the bombings and assassinations of those 15 long years. Now the defense minister, Elias al-Murr, is also the son-in-law of Lebanon's president. Both of them are considered to be very close to Syria, pro-Syrian politicians in Lebanon's complicated political landscape. And so for Lebanese who would blame Syria for the violence in their country and for the recent deaths of a Syrian journalist and a Lebanese politician who are both known as anti-Syrian, today's explosion was a shock. `Now there are no rules,' said one Lebanese I talked to today.

SIEGEL: Well, is there any indication of who might be behind this attempt today?

AMOS: There's been five assassination attempts over the last year, three of them successful, not one arrest. An international team of investigators is in Lebanon as we speak. They're part of the United Nations investigation of Rafik Hariri's murder, the former prime minister, but it will be months before they issue that report.

The death of a Lebanese journalist a few weeks ago in a car bombing is being investigated here, but because he's also a French citizen, his wife has asked French police to step in and investigate, because she says she doesn't trust the Lebanese to do so. So there are no shadowy groups that are claiming responsibility here, and somehow that's even more unnerving for most Lebanese.

SIEGEL: Now Lebanon just had an election, but the country's politicians have taken weeks to form a government. What impact would today's assassination attempt have on that process?

AMOS: The defense minister who was wounded in the attack today is likely to become the defense minister in the next government, and there are signs tonight that the Lebanese politicians are close to settling on a Cabinet.

But this assassination attempt comes at a time of tension on two of Lebanon's borders. On the Syrian border, trucks have been backed up for weeks. I saw them today as I crossed the border. Syrian officials say that they found a Lebanese truck filled with explosives, so they've been checking each and every truck. Now the Lebanese have been yelling about it because Syria is the only way for them to get to Arab markets, so it's costing millions of dollars as the produce rots in the stalled trucks.

In the south, there was some gunfire between an Israeli soldier and a gunman from Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group in Lebanon. So all this adds up to a feeling here that Lebanon is in for some very uncertain times.

SIEGEL: This was cross-border fire in the south, you mean?

AMOS: Cross-border fire. No one was injured. But still, whenever there's an event on that border, it shakes Lebanon because, yet again, they remember the occupation of southern Lebanon. So both borders have been tense.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Deborah Amos, talking to us from Beirut.

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SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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