BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s senior security chief on Saturday vowed to fight what he called “the empire of terror” as angry mourners vowed revenge at the funeral of a top intelligence officer killed in a car bombing.
Friday’s murders of Major Wissam Eid, his bodyguard Osama Mereb and three civilians triggered local and international condemnation and were seen as a new attempt to derail stability in a country paralysed by political crisis.
“We are determined to confront the empire of death and terror,” Internal Security Forces chief Brigadier General Ashraf Rifi said at a ceremony at ISF headquarters in Beirut before the funeral.
He paid tribute to Eid and Mereb, calling them “heroes and martyrs,” and pledged that the ISF “will continue to confront those who have decided to terrorise the nation.”
Rifi hailed Eid for “contributing to developing the intelligence services.”
Eid, 31, was Lebanon’s top anti-terrorism investigator and was involved in probes related to a spate of killings in recent years of mainly anti-Syrian politicians and figures, including former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Uniformed pall-bearers placed both coffins, draped in Lebanese flags, into ambulances for the journey to the northern port city of Tripoli, as colleagues of the dead men were unable to hold back their tears.
A band played a funeral march as Rifi and police and military brass looked on.
Hundreds of mourners lined the streets of Tripoli, which is decked with black flags. Women threw fistsful of rice and rose petals as the funeral cortege entered the city while men shouted slogans denouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
“Syria is the mother of terrorism” and “We swear to Allah that we will seek revenge,” they chanted.
Prayers were said at the Taynal Sunni Muslim mosque, where Sheikh Hassan Mereb, a cousin of the murdered warrant officer, demanded an international investigation into the killings.
Mereb was buried in Tripoli while Eid was taken to his hometown at Deir Aamar, six kilometres (3.5 miles) farther north, where around 5,000 people gathered to bid him a last farewell.
Shots were fired into the air in anger as Eid’s coffin left Tripoli, and hundreds of mourners holding black flags lined the road to Deir Ammar.
There his coffin was welcomed by thunderous applause as mourners chanted: “With our blood and our soul we redeem you, Wissam.”
Eid was buried in the family cemetery after a fiery speech by senior Sunni cleric Sheikh Oussama al-Rifai, who demanded that the “truth” behind the killings be made known.
Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s Western-backed parliamentary majority and a scion of the Sunni Muslim community, on Friday indirectly accused Syria of involvement in the murder. Damascus blamed it on “the enemies of Lebanon.”
Syria has also rejected any involvement in the car bomb assassination in February 2005 of Saad’s father Rafiq Hariri, the first of a long list of mostly anti-Syrian figures killed in Lebanon in recent years.
On Saturday several Beirut newspapers linked Eid’s murder to the Hariri probe.
“Two targets were hit: security and truth,” the French-language L’Orient-Le Jour said, echoing other dailies. “It was a bloody message to those who wanted to know the truth about Rafiq Hariri.”
The latest killings come as the country is embroiled in one of its worst political crises since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon has been without a president since late November, and a tug-of-war continues between the majority and the opposition, which is backed by Syria and Iran, on electing a new head of state.
Thirteen sessions of parliament to elect a new president have been postponed since September, despite international pressure and mediation.
Ad-Diyar newspaper, which is close to the opposition, said in an editorial on Saturday that the “political divisions” gripping Lebanon have undermined its efforts “to fight terrorism.”
Eid, a captain, and Mereb, a first sergeant, were posthumously promoted to major and warrant officer respectively and awarded several distinctions, including the “medal of war.”
Meanwhile the authorities erected a huge white tent on the site of Friday’s blast in the Hazmiyeh neighbourhood of east Beirut and cordoned off the area as experts searched for clues into the attack.