Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Top Hezbollah Commander Assassinated Outside His Home in Lebanon

BEIRUT (AP) - Gunmen assassinated a senior Hezbollah commander outside his home Wednesday in southern Beirut, a major breach of the Shiite militant group's security as it struggles to maintain multiple fronts while it fights alongside President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria.

The overnight killing of Hassan al-Laqis, described as a founding member of the group and one of its top commanders, was a huge blow to the Iranian-backed group that dominates power in Lebanon.

Hezbollah's heavy-handed and very open involvement in the civil war next door has enraged the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels seeking to oust Assad, and those sectarian divisions have spilled over into Lebanon and exposed the group and its Shiite supporters to retaliatory attacks.

Hezbollah strongholds have been the target of deadly car bomb attacks and suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last month, killing 23 people.

The militant group quickly blamed its main enemy Israel for the assassination. Israeli officials denied any involvement.

Al-Laqis' killing came shortly after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah ended a three-hour interview with a local television station, in which he accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the Iranian Embassy bombings. He indirectly blamed an alliance between Iran's rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia for trying to strike at the group.

The group announced his death Hezbollah in a statement, saying al-Laqis was killed as he returned home from work around midnight.

"The brother martyr Hassan al-Laqis spent his youth and all his life in this honorable resistance since its inception up until the last moments of his life," the statement said.

An official close to Hezbollah said al-Laqis held some of the group's most sensitive portfolios and was close to Nasrallah.

A Lebanese security official and the official close to Hezbollah said al-Laqis was shot with a pistol equipped with a silencer at close range after he parked his car in the ground floor garage of his apartment building in the Hadath neighborhood, just southwest of Beirut.

He was struck by five bullets in the head and neck, the Lebanese official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Al-Laqis was rushed to a nearby hospital but died early Wednesday from his wounds, officials said.

The parking lot was stained with muddied footprints that led to a small olive grove nearby. Yellow police tape blocked off the area and Hezbollah investigators were at the scene.