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Enormous Car Bomb Kills Lebanon’s Former Prime Minister and 11 Others

By Hassan M. Fattah

The New York Times -- BEIRUT, Lebanon

An enormous car bomb blasted the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Monday, killing him and 11 others in the most serious blow to the stability of Lebanon in more than a decade.

Hariri, a billionaire politician who resigned as prime minister in October in protest over Syria’s continuing influence here, was pronounced dead on arrival at the American University Hospital in Beirut.

The Bush administration said that the attack was “a terrible reminder” of the need for Lebanon to break free from Syria, which maintains 15,000 troops in the country, and said it was studying whether to increase sanctions on Syria, which it accuses of supporting terrorism.

Syria rejected the charge and condemned the bombing as criminal.

In the blast, which ripped a 30-foot crater in the street, six bodyguards and five passersby were also killed, and more 100 were wounded. A former minister of economy under Hariri, Bassem Flaeihan, who was in the convoy, was in critical condition.

The bomb went off at midday in one of Beirut’s swankiest sections along the Mediterranean, demolishing one building, damaging many others and shattering windows blocks away. For many who came to see the site of the bombing on Monday night, the scene was reminiscent of the kind of bombings that befell Lebanon during 15 years of civil war.

“This didn’t just target one man but all of Lebanon,” said Gebran Tuweni, a member of the opposition movement and publisher of the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar. “It has shaken the country to the core. But the response now is to face off these encroachments as a united front.”

As the pivotal figure in Lebanon’s political and economic life of the last two decades, Hariri doubtless had many who wished him ill. Still, it remained a mystery at day’s end who had killed him.

“One of the dilemmas of modern Lebanon is there are so many potential people who could have done this thing,” said Rami Khouri, editor at large of the Daily Star, Beirut’s English-language paper. “But there also five to six dimensions of his character that could have generated opposition.”

On Monday evening, the satellite channel Al Jazeera broadcast footage of a man claiming to be a suicide bomber with a previously unknown militant group calling itself Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria.

The speaker said he intended to kill Hariri for his support of the Saudi royal family.

Lebanese security forces stormed the house of a Palestinian man named Ahmad Abu Adas, believed to be the man on the tape, who had been missing all day.