A huge car bomb explosion in Beirut on Friday killed a top Lebanese security official whose investigations implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri seven years ago.
The rush-hour bomb in the center of the Lebanese capital killed eight people and wounded about 80 others, heightening fears that Syria's war is spilling over into Lebanon.
Among the dead was Wissam al-Hassan, the head of a Lebanese intelligence agency who had also uncovered a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician, a Lebanese official said.
Al-Hassan was a close aide to Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who was killed in a 2005 bomb attack in downtown Beirut. Al-Hassan's investigation into Hariri's death uncovered evidence that implicated Syria and Hezbollah in the killing.
It was also not clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon's divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.
Ambulances rushed to the scene in the Ashafriyeh district, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area.
The explosion ripped through the street where the office of the anti-Damascus Christian Phalange Party is located near Sassine Square.
Phalange leader Sami al-Gemayel, a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a member of parliament, condemned the attack.
"Let the state protect the citizens. We will not accept any procrastination in this matter, we cannot continue like that. We have been warning for a year. Enough," said Gemayel, whose brother was assassinated in November 2006.
Several cars were set on fire by the explosion and the front of a multi-story building was badly damaged. Residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances, Reuters reported.