Journalists were shocked by the death of Gebran Tueini, editor in chief of leading Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, who was killed in the capital Beirut by two car bombs on Monday, according to initial security reports.
At least three other people were killed and 30 wounded as the bombs, apparently targeting Tueini’s passing car, detonated in the Mekalles district in the eastern side of the city.
“I’m shocked – it’s a huge loss to the Lebanese press and for Lebanon,” said Lebanese Press Federation Vice President Georges Skaff. “Politicians as well as journalists are given the death sentence for voicing their opinions.”
“Lebanon is surrounded by forces who don’t believe in freedom,” he added.
The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) immediately expressed its “outrage and sorrow” over the killing of the 48 year-old journalist, who was also a board member of the organisation.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of Mr Tueni, an outstanding, brave and determined publisher and journalist,” WAN stated in a press release. The organisation went on to urge the Lebanese government to “do everything possible to ensure that the killers are swiftly brought to justice.”
Monday’s slaying is only the latest in a string of killings that began with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February.
“This can’t go on,” said Tueini’s uncle, Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh, himself the target of a failed assassination attempt in October. “We want the government to call for an international tribunal to look into all these assassinations.”
Hamadeh went on to say that he and other ministers belonging to the Democratic Gathering would resign if the security climate did not improve dramatically.
UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, also issued a statement on the killing: "This tragic assassination is today the latest in a
vicious campaign against Lebanese citizens, journalists, political leaders and their right to freedom of expression. The Secretary-General strongly condemns this cold-blooded murder and extends his deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and injured."
Al-Nahar journalist Toni Abi Najem told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) television channel: “It’s as if we were living a nightmare, desperately waiting for someone to wake us up.”
LBC was recently targeted when its own television talk show host, May Chidiac, known for anti-Syrian political views, was left seriously wounded on 25 September by the detonation of a bomb planted in her car.
Earlier, in June, anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir, considered one of Lebanon’s leading intellectuals, was killed in a similar incident.
Tueini, like Kassir, had repeatedly claimed he was being threatened by the Syrian state apparatus. In his last editorial, Tueini accused Damascus of maintaining its interference in Lebanon, despite the official withdrawal of Syrian troops in April.
Addressing Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa, the journalist wrote: “The Syrian tutelage of Lebanon is over.”
According to Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, the timing of the attack is linked to an ongoing UN investigation into the Hariri murder.
“It’s no coincidence that Tueini was killed only a few hours before the UN Security Council meets to discuss a final report by the investigation team.”
Most observers expect results of the probe, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, to implicate Syria as the primary instigator of the assassination.
The final report is due to be officially released within hours.
Anti-Syrian political figures, including ministers, MPs and party representatives, gathered at the offices of Al-Nahar, where they called for the resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud.
Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, head of the pro-Syrian Amal Party, urged restraint, saying the situation “calls for national unity and dialogue.”
In hopes of calming rising passions, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called for an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet.
Damascus, meanwhile, strongly condemned the killing, with Syrian Minister of Information Mahdi Dakhlallah saying the blast “targeted Lebanon’s stability and civil peace.”
He went on to refer to the timing of the murder as part of a plot against Damascus.