Anti-Syrian Christian Journalist Killed in Car Bomb Attack in Lebanon

A Lebanese journalist who worked for the nation's top daily newspaper and was known for his anti-Syrian government writings was killed yesterday as a bomb exploded in his car in a Christian neighborhood in Beirut.

Samir Qassir, 45, a Christian and columnist for the An-Nahar newspaper, died after after explosives placed under the driver's seat of his car went off mid-morning in the suburb of Achrafieh where he lived.

Qassir had blamed Syria for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, and had also called for the resignation President Emile Lahoud and pro-Syrian allies in government, according to the New York Times.

The bomb was probably triggered by remote control, said interior minister Hassan Sabei, according to the Associated Press.

The attack is one in a series of explosions since February in Christian areas throughout the capital and surrounding areas. The attack has drawn the strongest response of any explosion since the former prime minister was killed. On Thursday night, thousands of Lebanese converged on Martyrs Square for a candlelight vigil, according to the New York Times.

President Lahoud, who visited the Journalist's Union to pay his condolences said yesterday: "On my first day in office I pledged not to allow journalists to be imprisoned, even if they criticize me. I meant what I said then and I still mean it now. Lebanon cannot survive without freedom," according to he Daily Star.

He also called for "this crime" to be investigated by the United Nations committee that is also looking into the assassination of the former prime minister.

Speaking from the blast scene, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that the government "will not allow anyone to target security and freedom."

A spokesman for prominent opposition parliamentary candidate Alain Aoun said the current government was responsible.

"We condemn this act, and we blame the government for its complacency in this," he said. "But this is a political act, and we insist that this crime not be used for political ends out of respect for the martyr.

Another opposition figure, Druze Minister of Parliament Walid Jumblatt, who will be up against Aoun in June 12 ongoing parliamentary elections said: "Samir Qassir was murdered by the remnants of the security agencies that control the country and are headed by Emile Lahoud."

A statement from the official Syrian news agency "absolutely rejected" all accusations of culpability.

"This shows the extent to which these people harbor hostile thoughts toward Syria," the statement said, according to the Daily Star.