Many Lebanese officials aren't buying Hizballah's denial that it is responsible for Friday's car-bombing that killed Mohammad Chatah, the country's former finance minister and ambassador to the United States.
The bombing, which killed at least five others and wounded dozens, took place near the site of the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A United Nations Special Tribunal charged five Hizballah officials in that attack. They are scheduled to be tried in absentia Jan. 16.
Chatah, once a close aide to Hariri, reportedly was en route to a meeting with the anti-Hizballah March 14 coalition at Hariri's son's house when the bombing took place. Chatah was a strong critic of both Hizballah and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Less than an hour before the bombing, Chatah criticized Hizballah in a Twitter posting. The Shiite terrorist group, which is underwritten by Iran, "is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs," Chatah wrote.
Hizballah issued a statement calling the attack "heinous" and something that "only benefits the enemies of Lebanon." But that hasn't proved very persuasive.
"Those who assassinated Mohammad Chatah are the ones who assassinated Rafik Hariri; they are the ones who want to assassinate Lebanon," Saad Hariri said in a statement Friday.
"The suspects are those who are running away from international justice and refuse to appear in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; they are the ones opening the window of evil and chaos to Lebanon and the Lebanese and are drawing regional fires," Hariri said.
Hizballah fighters have played a key role in helping Assad fend off a rebel uprising. That, in turn, has sparked retaliatory strikes against Hizballah targets in neighboring Lebanon, increasing sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Last month, 25 people were killed in a double suicide bombing at the Iranian embassy in Lebanon.
The al-Qaida linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed credit for that attack, calling on Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria. But the Christian Science Monitor reports that Friday's bombing "appeared more in line with a wave of assassinations of anti-Syrian political figures" dating back to Rafik Hariri's 2005 murder than as part of the new cycle of violence over Syria.
American Islamist groups and their supporters have hailed Hizballah as a "resistance group" when its violence struck Israeli and Jewish targets throughout the world. While many sympathize with the Syrian opposition, criticism of Iran and Hizballah remains muted.