A car bomb killed former Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah in downtown Beirut today, the state-run National News Agency said, citing its correspondent.
The bomb killed five and injured 50 when it was detonated around 9:45 a.m. local time, NNA said. Chatah, 62, a member of the Western-backed March 14 coalition, was traveling to meet other members of the group when the attack occurred.
The strike was the first to target a member of the March 14 group since a wave of explosions began shaking Lebanon in July. Most of the assaults have targeted Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, a member of the rival March 8 alliance that has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“This comes in the context of the Sunni-Shiite conflict triggered by the war in Syria,” said Sami Nader, a professor of international relations at Beirut’s St. Joseph University, today in a telephone interview. This blast was a “direct message to the moderate Sunnis in Lebanon and their Saudi supporters,” he said.
Lebanon’s Future TV, partly run by Chatah’s March 14th group, also reported he was killed in the blast while traveling through an area of Beirut that houses the Parliament building and government headquarters. Chatah had been an adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The attack occurred amid deep divisions in Lebanon over the war in Syria, pitting mostly Sunni rebels against Assad, who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. March 14, a coalition of several parties including the mostly Sunni Muslim Future Movement, has supported the opposition while its rival March 8 alliance, including the Shiite militant Hezbollah, has supported Assad.
In his last statement on Twitter, posted shortly before today’s blast, Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, wrote that Hezbollah, “is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs.”
Chatah spent years learning and working in the U.S., according to his resume. In 1983 he received a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas. From 1997 to 1999 he was Lebanon’s ambassador to Washington. A former adviser to the International Monetary Fund, Chatah was married and had two children.