Beirut’s assassins kill the detective on their trail

The assassins of Beirut are getting personal. Yesterday morning, they killed the most important detective on their trail, the very man who is leading the Lebanese government’s investigations into the murder – and attempted murder – of so many of the country’s politicians, journalists and soldiers.

Captain Wassem Eid, a highly intelligent officer in the Lebanese police intelligence division who was close to the government – in other words, he was not pro-Syrian – was torn apart, along with his bodyguard and at least three civilians, under a motorway overpass. So devastating was the explosion – an entire truck was blasted into the air and its driver killed – that it was not at first clear whether the killers used a car bomb or had planted their bomb beside the highway.

Captain Eid, who was handling “all those files to do with terrorist bombings,” according to Lebanon’s top policeman, Brig-GenAshraf Rifi, came only 16 months after Col Samir Shehade, deputy head of the police intelligence department and another officer involved in the investigation of Lebanon’s political murders, was almost killed by a roadside bomb south of Beirut.

So a new pattern of killings are emerging in Beirut. The killers stalk the hunters and now the hunters are falling prey. Only last month, General Francois el-Haj, second-in-command of the Lebanese army and the man most involved in suppressing the Islamist insurgency in northern Lebanon last year, was bombed to death under a similar motorway overpass two miles from yesterday’s murder scene. It was Mafia-like in its efficiency; a massive bomb directly opposite Captain Eid’s car, set off with academic precision. As usual, there were no claims of responsibility and – like every other political murder in Lebanon for the past 30 years – no arrests.

Little wonder then, at the blanket of despair which now envelops so many Lebanese lives. Yesterday was the 1,067th day since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, the murder which detonated a series of brutal killings of largely anti-Syrian figures.

There is now a familiar pattern, not just to the killings but to the aftermath. Pro-government supporters suggest Syria was to blame – since almost all the victims have been open critics of Syria, the Lebanese were inevitably going to say the “butler” did it – and then Syria denounces the crime in the strongest terms. Then the US government condemns the murder, and the country settles down to discuss who the next victims will be. Which is why they are so desperate to find the murderers of Lebanon before the murderers find them.

Correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk is resident in the Middle East and comments on events unfolding there