BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) # A bomb exploded in a car south of Beirut early Saturday, killing a security official of the militant Hezbollah group, officials said.
The explosion occurred on Hadi Nasrallah highway in Beirut’s southern suburbs at around 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) during the morning rush hour, the security officials said on condition of anonymity.
The explosion tore apart the car and instantly killed its driver, Ali Hussein Saleh, the officials said. A passer-by was injured.
The security officials earlier said the blast killed two people and injured several passers-by, but they later announced that Saleh was the sole fatality, while only one person was injured.
Saleh, whose body was mutilated and charred by the explosion, was apparently heading to the Iranian Embassy where he worked as a security official.
A two kilogram (4.4 pound) bomb placed in the car’s back seat detonated after he switched on the ignition and drove about 100 meters (yards), the officials added.
Hezbollah issued a terse statement acknowledging that Saleh, 42, was one of its members. It did not give his rank, saying only that he was married with six children. Lebanese security officials confirmed Saleh was a Hezbollah security official.
In a later statement, Hezbollah said Saleh, who joined Hezbollah in 1982, had participated in several “jihad operations” against Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon.
The motive for the explosion, which occurred along a bustling street lined with shops, was not immediately clear.
But Hezbollah and a Lebanese Cabinet minister blamed Israel. Hezbollah also vowed to retaliate for Saleh’s killing.
“The Israeli hand again exercises terrorism and aggression deep into Lebanese territory and in heavily populated areas, targeting this time one of our best mujahedeen (strugglers),” Hezbollah said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.
“All information available to us confirmed in a firm manner Israel’s full responsibility for this repulsive crime which we consider as a blatant aggression on our people and country,” it said, adding, “Hezbollah asserts that this crime will not go unpunished.”
Culture Minister Ghazi Aridi told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television station, “I think that this operation is a clear Israeli deed in view of the information available about the martyr who fell in this cowardly operation.”
“Although the martyr works as a driver at the Iranian Embassy, I can say, according to available information, that he is one of the mujahedeen (strugglers) in the jihad (holy war) movement against the Israeli occupation,” Aridi said, while also accusing Israel of trying to destabilize Lebanon.
Lebanese officials have previously blamed Israel for a string of deadly car bombings that rocked Lebanon during the 1975-90 civil war.
“We were scared to death as the explosion shook our building. I scurried with my children for cover after hearing the blast,” a 35-year-old woman living in a 12-story building near the blast scene said on condition of anonymity.
Lebanese policemen and soldiers sealed off the area, which is a Hezbollah stronghold, and launched a search for other possible booby-trapped cars. Bearded Hezbollah security agents were seen inspecting the bomb scene.
Hezbollah led a guerrilla war against Israel’s 18-year occupation of a border zone in southern Lebanon that ended in 2000.
Lebanon recognizes Hezbollah as a legitimate resistance group fighting Israeli occupation, but the United States regards the group # which is backed by Syria and Iran # as a terrorist organization, while Israel accuses it of possessing thousands of rockets, including weapons that could strike deep into Israel.
On June 3, a bomb exploded in an ambulance belonging to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel, seriously wounding its driver.
In February, Nimr Noureddin, a top Hezbollah security official, was fatally shot at his home in Bir Hassan, also in Beirut’s southern suburbs where the militant group’s security men keep close watch on outsiders.