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President Lahoud's Son-in-Law Elias Murr Survives Assassination Ambush

July 12, 2005/Naharnet

Lebanon's caretaker Vice Premier and Defense Minister Elias Murr survived an assassination bombing ambush with minor and medium burns in Beirut's suburban district of Naccache Tuesday. Police reversed an initial estimation of casualties, saying one person was killed and 12 were wounded in the explosion that ripped Murr's motorcade to shreds.

The reports said Murr, 45, the son-in-law of President Lahoud, was helped out of his armor-plated four-wheeler Porsche by onlookers and taken to the nearby Serhal hospital in Lebanon's Christian heartland where he underwent a minor operation on one of his hands.

His military aide de camp, Col. Elias Bayssari, reportedly suffered life-threatening wounds along with several other bodyguards. Bayssari was operated on in Abou Jaoude hospital and was reported in stable condition in an intensive care unit.

Police investigators said the 60-kg explosive charge was planted beneath a Pajero Mitsubishi parked at the roadside and detonated by a remote control only a second before the motorcade rolled past, which contributed to Murr's miraculous escape. The explosion carved a 2-meter-wide crater in the pavement and flung the booby-trapped vehicle over the stone wall of an adjacent villa. The blast also broke shop glass veneers and house windows within a 700 meter radius.

Local TV footages from the scene north of the capital showed rescuers and riot police extracting several bloodied casualties from the motorcade as well as seven other smoldering cars. One of these cars was a Mercedes Benz that was gutted and the driver was charred to death.

Politicians from various shades of thought raced to the scene and then to the hospital. Among them was Saad Hariri, the majority leader of the new parliament who inherited his father's political mantle after Rafik Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination.

Gebran Tueni was among the earliest callers. Tueni, who holds one of Beirut's seats in the newly elected Lebanese parliament, raced in his car through the 10 kilometers from An Nahar's downtown headquarter building to the hilltop hospital in the Metn province to be on hand as Murr was being wheeled into an operation theater for surgery.

Tueni saw Murr at the surgery room and recorded a message on his mobile in which Murr assured the public of his wellbeing, "Thank God, it's OK ... The country is going through a difficult period and we all have to bear that."

The bombing scene is close to several embassies and foreign diplomatic missions. Among the injured was the wife of Mexico's ambassador who was rushed to the same hospital.

Like Lahoud, Murr has long been a Syrian protégé in Lebanon's politics. He is the first targeted pro-Syrian after a chain of assassinations left four anti-Syrian politicians dead-- ex-Premier Hariri, his economy advisor Bassel Fleihan, An Nahar's columnist Samir Kassir and communist ideologue George Hawi.

The previous assassinations were all blamed on Syria's secret service by former anti-Syria opposition leaders who now form the majority of the newly-elected parliament. There was no immediate comment Tuesday on who may have engineered Murr's attempted murder.

The attempt came amid reports of a clash between President Lahoud and Premier-designate Fouad Seniora on whether Murr would be retained as vice premier and defense minister in the new government.