Car Bomb in Beirut Kills Former Ambassador to U.S.

Assassination threatens to push Lebanon into sectarian chaos.

Lebanese security forces and firefighters gather next to destroyed vehicles at the scene of an explosion in central Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013.
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A car bomb that ripped through a Beirut business district in Lebanon Friday, killing a former pro-Western ambassador to the United States, is threatening to push the country into the sectarian turmoil that has long plagued the Mideast region.

Mohammed Chattah, a former finance minister for Lebanon and top aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and five others were killed in the bombing, which was the first in Beirut's downtown in several years, according to The Associated Press. Chattah served as ambassador to the United States from 1997 to 2000, according to The New York Times.

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Though no group has claimed responsibility, Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite populations have been split over the civil war in neighboring Syria. Chattah, a Sunni politician, supported the anti-Syrian regime Future bloc and was sympathetic to the rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile, some suspect the Shiite military group and Lebanese political party Hezbollah might be behind the attack, according to the AP.

Lebanon was torn apart by its own civil war for 15 years before resolving the conflict in 1990.

Earlier Friday morning, Chattah posted on Twitter, criticizing Hezbollah for attempting to use the same sweeping security and foreign policy powers in Lebanon that Syria exerted during the Lebanese civil war, according to the Times.

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Chattah apparently drove by the bomb car, which was parked on his route and triggered by remote control and packed with up to 132 pounds of explosives, according to the AP. It was powerful enough to injure up to 70 more bystanders and shatter storefront windows.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the attack, "targeted a political and moderate figure who believed in dialogue, the language of reason and logic and the right to different opinions."

Many observers say the politically-motivated assassination could re-ignite simmering sectarian tensions in Lebanon, particularly given the on-going war in Syria.

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