A huge explosion in central Beirut has killed at least eight people and wounded at least 78, state media in Lebanon are reporting, according to NPR's Kelly McEvers. The target of the bomb isn't clear, but Reuters says the blast occurred on the same street that's home to a political group that opposes Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Twitter users are begging for city residents to answer phones, to ask friends to check on loved ones and to donate blood. Al Jazeera is showing video tape of bloody victims scrambling over debris in the mostly Christian Ashrafieh neighborhood while firefighters pour water on cars and rubble. Black smoke is belching into the sky.
As always with tragic events such as this, the story is developing and key details will likely change as the day continues. We'll be updating.
Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. Former Prime Minister Blames Syria:
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of being behind the huge car bomb, Reuters reports. According to the wire service:
"Asked by Future Television who was responsible for the killing, Hariri replied: 'Bashar Hafez al-Assad,' giving the full name of the Syrian president. Hariri's father, Rafik al-Hariri [also a former prime minister], was killed seven years ago in a bombing which his supporters blamed on Damascus and Hezbollah."
Update at 12:40 p.m. ET. Security Official May Have Been Targeted:
Earlier, we reported on the word that top Lebanese security official Wissam al-Hassan had been killed in the explosion. Now, The New York Times writes that the brigadier general "was apparently the intended target of the explosion."
As Now Lebanon adds, Hassan had been involved in the investigation of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's 2005 assassination, which laid the blame on Hezbollah, and in the arrest this year of Lebanon's information minister on charges of colluding with Syrian regime officials.
Update at 11:45 a.m. ET. Lebanese Security Official May Have Been Killed:
Reuters writes that "a top Lebanese security official was killed in the car bombing in Beirut on Friday, Lebanon's al-Jadeed television said. Wissam al-Hassan, who was in charge of a top intelligence unit, was the brain behind uncovering a recent bomb plot that led to the arrest of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician."
Update at 11:15 a.m. ET. More Coverage:
-- Reuters is live blogging here.
-- Al Jazeera English is updating its reporting here.
-- Lebanon's Daily Star (which at this hour is reporting three deaths and 94 people wounded) is posting updates here.
Update at 10:15 a.m. ET. About That Area Of The City:
The BBC's Caroline Anning writes that "Sassine Square is in the heart of east Beirut's Ashrafiya district. It is a trendy area of shops and cafes, close to the popular ABC shopping mall. ... On a Friday afternoon, it is likely to have been full of cars and people. Ashrafiya is not an area prone to flare-ups of violence or political tension. ... This car-bomb attack, targeting a normally peaceful square in broad daylight, is bound to spread fear of a return to violence after four years of relative calm."
Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. Updates From Beirut:
Kelly, who is in Beirut, is posting updates on Twitter. She notes that:
Update at 9:35 a.m. ET: According to the BBC, "Friday's attack is the first major car bomb attack in Beirut for four years."