Skip to main content

Lebanon's Mohamad Chatah -- U.S. friend, Hezbollah foe -- killed in blast

By Saad Abedine. Holly Yan and Yousuf Basil, CNN
updated 4:58 AM EST, Sat December 28, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Death toll rises to 7
  • Bombers "want to assassinate Lebanon," former prime minister says
  • Chatah and his bodyguard were killed; 71 were wounded
  • Hezbollah decries attack, says it "only benefits the enemies of Lebanon"

(CNN) -- Mohamad Chatah, a former Lebanese finance minister and ambassador to the United States, died Friday when a car bomb struck his convoy in downtown Beirut, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

The blast killed six others and left 71 wounded, Lebanon's state news agency said. Cars were burned beyond recognition as a wall of flames and thick black smoke shot up from the blast site.

Chatah's bodyguard, Mohammed Badr, was among those killed, the news agency said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Lebanese official killed in bomb blast

Chatah's last tweet, posted about an hour before his death, talked about Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Shiite militant group with which Chatah was at odds.

"#Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs," Chatah tweeted.

That group decried the attack in a statement aired on Hezbollah TV, saying the it "only benefits the enemies of Lebanon."

The group called on "all the security and judicial agencies to be on high alert to expose the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

Chatah was known as a staunch critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he accused of meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs. Hezbollah has sent fighters to help al-Assad's forces in the Syrian civil war.

"A united and peaceful Syria ruled by Assad is simply not possible anymore. It has been like that for some time," Chatah wrote in his last blog post. "The status quo ante cannot be restored. Iran and Hezbollah realize this more than anyone else."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the killing of Chatah, whom he called "a voice of reason, responsibility and moderation."

"His presence will be missed, but his vision for a united Lebanon, free from sectarian violence and destabilizing interference, will continue to guide our efforts," Kerry said in a written statement. "Indeed, his tragic end reminds all of us just why his vision remains so imperative."

Syrian war spills over into Lebanon

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's civil war in which al-Assad's forces are battling rebels seeking an end to his family's four-decade dynasty. Al-Assad and the core of his regime are Alawites, members of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but most Syrians and a large portion of the rebels are Sunni.

The war has spilled across the border into Lebanon. Dozens have been killed there in largely sectarian violence, including dual bombings last month that left 23 dead in Beirut.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Sunni jihadist group linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for those bombings. The group warned that more attacks would come unless Hezbollah stopped sending fighters to support Syrian regime forces.

Chatah graduated from American University in Beirut and was Lebanon's ambassador to the United States from 1997 to 1999, according to his blog. Chatah also was a senior adviser for former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and was the finance minister in former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet in 2008 and 2009.

Hariri issued a statement Friday condemning the killing, calling it "yet another terrorist message sent to us, we the free men of Lebanon in the Future Movement and March 14 coalition."

Hariri's "March 14 coalition" is a pro-Western, Sunni-dominated bloc. It takes its name from the day in 2005 when thousands gathered in Beirut a month after the assassination of Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, to demand an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

Saad Hariri said the bombers "want to assassinate Lebanon and humiliate and weaken the State."

"The signatories of the message do not hide their fingerprints," he said. "They will continue on the criminal path and will insist on dragging Lebanon into the abyss of discord, as long as there is in Lebanon some who provide cover for those crimes, who ask to bury the heads in the sand and who justify the proliferation of weapons and the rise of the armed groups at the expense of the State and its institutions."

On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati posted a tweet saying he is calling off his vacation and heading back to Lebanon.

"I condemn this assassination, which targeted a political, an academic, a moderate and an upscale figure who always believed in dialogue and the language of reason, logic and the right to have a different opinion," Mikati said.

Chatah was married and had two children.

His death comes 20 days before the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon begins the trial of four Hezbollah suspects over the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri. Like Chatah, Hariri was also killed in a car bombing.

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Jill Dougherty and Nada Husseini contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions and pleaded for U.S. help in interviews with CNN.
Hundreds of jihadis in Syria are from abroad -- which countries have the biggest problem?
updated 5:13 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Libyan militia members have apparently turned the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, into a water park.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Obama's remarks that he didn't yet have a strategy for ISIS in Syria is widely criticized.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 8:08 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive, prompting criticism.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
In a major breach of privacy, a hacker leaked a series of pictures allegedly showing Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities in the nude.
Instead of weaving garments sold in the West, children should be in school
According to the International Labour Organization, there are 168 million child laborers around the world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT