WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- It was "a horrible, horrible, day," lamented a foreign resident of the Lebanese capital after a massive bomb killed Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a larger-than-life figure in Lebanon's murky and often treacherous political waters.
Whoever assassinated Hariri chose the location with particular care. It was no coincidence that Hariri was killed where he was -- in the downtown hotel district, an area that was close to his heart, and which he helped rebuild. They could have just as easily waited for him somewhere else; somewhere they knew he would pass on his way home. It is clear that by choosing this location, they were also sending a message.
Hariri was particularly fond of the center of the Lebanese capital, an area that had been devastated and rendered inhabitable by almost 19 years of a bloody fratricidal war. The great swath of no-man's land that dissected the Lebanese capital from east to west, and abandoned to itself for more than a decade and a half, contributed in keeping Lebanon's Christian and Muslim communities apart.
Hariri, more than any other leader in this small country the size of Rhode Island, helped erase the so-called Green Line by bringing life back to this part of Beirut. His colossal rebuilding projects saw the renovation of Beirut's "downtown," and for the first time since the start of the civil war in 1975 allowed Christians and Muslims to mingle freely and without fear around the newly reconstructed neighborhood.
His many critics lambasted him for plunging Lebanon into debt to rebuild the city center, which he did to the tune of some $33 billion. However, what many failed to realize was that in doing so, Hariri was investing in the future of the country -- its heritage and its people.
Hariri had helped erase this imaginary line that for years kept each community segregated on its side of the capital. The proof was in the reality that downtown had become a place where people from all walk of life, all communities, flocked nightly to enjoy a moment of tranquility.
Regardless of his politics, there is no denying that Hariri had a vision, which was to rebuild Beirut and Lebanon. It was therefore no accident that the 700 pounds of explosives that were detonated as the former prime minister's five-car convoy drove by, also killing seven of his bodyguards, happened in the hotel district in the vicinity of the St. George and Phoenicia Intercontinental hotels -- near the former Green Line.
In killing Hariri, those who ordered the assassination also tried to kill the man's vision.
The immediate question now on everyone's mind is: Who stands to profit from Hariri's death? It cannot be denied that the former Lebanese prime minister made many enemies along the way, from the business world in Saudi Arabia, where he made his fortune, to the Lebanese political scene, where he made his political foes and became prime minister.
But Monday's killing of Hariri carries a distinct signature, which in due course, will be found out. The immediate accusing fingers pointed toward Damascus, with whom Hariri had disagreements. However, it may be too obvious, and it stands to make little sense.
"It's a catastrophy for Syria," Imad Mustapha, the Syrian ambassador to Washington told United Press International. "This will give fuel to our enemies around the world. It will not serve Syrian interests in Lebanon."
The former prime minister, in fact, resigned when Syria forced the Lebanese Parliament last year to amend its constitution to re-elect President Emile Lahoud to a third term. Lahoud is an ardent supporter of Syria, which maintains about 15,000 armed troops in Lebanon.
Far more relevant is the presence, or rather the penetration, of Syria's intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, in every segment of Lebanese society and at every echelon of its military, social and political structure. Even if Syria were to withdraw its forces today, it would still control Lebanon thanks to the intelligence network it has infiltrated into every part of the country.
Syria condemned the killing and issued a communiqué in which Syria's President Bashar Assad "expressed his deep sorrow" and described this assassination as "a horrendous atrocity."
Shortly after the explosion, a hitherto unknown group calling itself the Organization of Nasrat and Jihad in Bilad Sham claimed responsibility for the killing in a videotape sent to al-Jazeera. The group said they carried out the attack against Hariri "because he is an agent of the Saudi regime." They claimed it was in revenge for the mujahedin killed by Saudi forces. They warned this was "the first of many to come."
The other possibility is that Hariri was killed by renegade Lebanese military or intelligence officers acting with, or without, the consent of a third power.
In a harbinger of what happened, a few days ago a well-connected Lebanese source sent an e-mail predicting that things in Lebanon are "boiling," and that tensions are likely to "escalate further" as the crucial parliamentary elections scheduled for next April approaches. The writer of the e-mail predicted that "destabilization, "at least in the form of assassination attempts and car bombings, is probably in the cards."
However, Lebanese security forces say the killing of Hariri was the work of a suicide bomber, whom they identified as a Palestinian member of a group linked to al-Qaida. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source identified the bomber as Ahmed Abu Adas, a Palestinian refugee who lived in the low-income Beirut neighborhood of Tarik Jadida.
The source said the bomber's neighbors saw him leave his home a few hours before the attack that killed Hariri and eight other people. Security forces raided Abu Adas' house later in the day and seized a computer and documents, the source told UPI.
Regardless of who was ultimately responsible for the killing of Hariri Monday, it leaves Lebanon in much murkier -- and more turbulent -- waters.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)