AMMAN, Jordan -- A heavy blast rocked central Beirut on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring more than 70 others, according to the Lebanese Health Ministry. A former government minister was among the dead, his political faction said.
Plumes of black smoke billowed into the air, and television images showed scenes of blazing wreckage and scattered debris.
The dead former minister was identified as Mohamad Chatah, according to his Future Movement political faction.
Troops and rescuers converged on the scene, which was close to downtown hotels as well as government buildings, including the parliament. Security sources said a political figure was believed to have been the target, and said the explosion was apparently caused by a car bomb.
Spillover violence from the Syrian civil war has been the suspected cause of a number of bombings and other attacks in the Lebanese capital. But previous strikes have mainly taken place in the city’s Shiite-dominated southern neighborhoods, rather than in the commercial center.
Last month, a pair of bombings outside the Iranian Embassy compound killed 23 people and injured more than 150.
[For the Record, 1:21 a.m. PST Dec. 27: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of a former government minister who was killed as Mohammed Shateh. It’s Mohamad Chatah.]
Bulos is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.