News

June 3, 2005 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Shock at murder of leading newspaper columnist Samir Kassir in car-bombing


Samir Kassir was killed when his car blew up today in Beirut. A writer and historian with both French and Lebanese citizenship, Kassir had been criticising Syria in his columns for the An-Nahar daily newspaper for the past ten years. "The French authorities and the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri should pay particular attention to this new act of terrorism, said Reporters Without Borders. The organisation pledges to remain mobilised until justice has been done.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, who was in Beirut on 2 June, voiced dismay at the murder of columnist Samir Kassir of the An-Nahar newspaper, who was killed when his car blew up on the morning of 2 June in Beirut. "We are in a complete state of shock after Samir Kassir's cowardly murder," Ménard said. "We have lost a friend, and press freedom has lost a passionate defender. We share his family's grief and anger, and we extend our heart-felt sympathy to the entire staff of An-Nahar." Ménard added: "The French authorities and the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri should pay particular attention to this new act of terrorism. Those responsible for the murder, which targeted a great journalist, must be identified, arrested and punished. We promise to remain mobilised until justice has been done." Kassir was killed when his white Alfa Romeo car, which was parked outside his home in the Christian neighbourhood of Achrafieh in East Beirut, exploded at 10:45 a.m. (07:45 GMT). Interior minister Hassan Sabeh told journalists on 3 June that Kassir was killed "by the explosion of a charge of 500 to 700 grams of plastic explosive attached to the chassis of his car beneath the driver's seat, which was set off by remote control." A woman whose identity was not released was injured by the blast. Lebanese army soldiers rushed to the scene of the bombing. Prime Minister Nagib Miqati, French ambassador Bernard Emié, German ambassador Rudolf Kniess and European Commission representative Patrick Renault all went to the scene as well. A writer and historian with both French and Lebanese citizenship, 45-year-old Kassir had been writing columns for the past 10 years for An-Nahar ("The Day" in Arabic), a moderate daily newspaper with a circulation of 55,000. He was also the correspondent of the French-language international television station TV5 and had written for many years for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique. He was also professor of political sciences at Beirut's St Joseph university. Well-known for his anti-Syrian positions and his criticism of the "Lebanese police state," he had been harassed and threatened for years. In 2000, he was harassed by Lebanese state security police and his Lebanese passport was confiscated. He later said he was constantly followed by Lebanese and Syrian intelligence agents. Former prime minister Hariri had given him protection at that time. His last column, on 27 May, was headlined "Gaffe after gaffe" and criticised "the continuing repression in Syria." Kassir was one of the founders of the opposition Movement of the Democratic Left and was an active participant in the anti-Syrian protests in the spring of this year. After meeting on the evening of 2 June, the Lebanese opposition called for the resignation of President Emile Lahoud and urged all Lebanese to observe a day of mourning and a strike on 3 June, which ended up receiving little support. The Lebanese press was glowing in its tributes to Kassir, calling him a "martyr to freedom and democracy." In response to an appeal from the daily An-Nahar, hundreds of journalists dressed in black and white observed an hour of silence from 7 to 8 a.m. on 3 June in the centre of Beirut, raising their fists in the air at the end. President Lahoud said he "condemned the murder" and announced that he would ask the head of the UN commission investigating Hariri's 14 February assassination to extend their enquiries to include Kassir's murder. Lahoud also said he would chair an extraordinary cabinet meeting to "consider and adopt measures needed to protect journalists and the media against all attacks." Kassir's widow, Gisèle Khouri, a leading presenter for the privately-owned TV station, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), called for an international investigation with French participation. Kassir was "also a French citizen" and the French authorities "must participate in the investigation into his murder," she said. She has the support of the anti-Syrian opposition. French President Jacques Chirac said he condemned Kassir's murder "with the utmost firmness" and suggested that those responsible had aimed to attack "the freedom of the Lebanese." In a message to Khouri, the text of which was released on 3 June, Chirac said: "I learned with horror of the murder of Samir Kassir. There are no words to describe this revolting crime." UN secretary-general Kofi Annan also condemned Kassir's murder, describing him as "a leading journalist known for being outspoken." Annan called on the Lebanese government "to bring the perpetrators and instigators of this terrible murder to justice, to put an end to impunity and to ensure respect for press freedom." Referring to the legislative elections which began five days ago in Lebanon, Annan also called on "all sides to safeguard national unity and calm during this important electoral period." Sign the petition